“Knowing the place and the hour, you seat yourself under a bush to the east of the dance floor and wait, watching against the sunset for the woodcock’s arrival. He flies in low from some neighboring thicket, alights on the bare moss, and at once begins the overture: a series of queer throaty peents spaced about two seconds apart, and sounding much like the summer call of the Nighthawk.”
-Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac–
Whether for a hunt, photograph or just to watch, knowing an animal’s favored habitat, the likelihood of finding them at a particular time (circadian and calendar), and specific behaviors are crucial for finding a species of focus. The American Woodcock, also known as a Timberdoodle or Bogsucker, arrives early in the spring to its preferred display grounds.
Young forest is required for nesting Woodcock, and to observe their courtship displays one must find their preferred singing grounds. Woodcock prefer young, dense, successional forest that is somewhat on the wet side, with marsh or forest streams nearby. The singing grounds are typically located in an opening with mixed grassland habitat. An optimal location would be a treeless opening large enough for several males to establish their ground and that allows room for flight. Around 10-15 minutes after sunset from late February to late April, the males slowly begin to peent (see video below) usually from a more covered location. As darkness takes over, the males will venture out onto their preferred open grounds to allow the girls the best possible views. A nice spot for this in Missouri is often a mowed path through native grassland habitat.
After a series of peents, the male jumps into a spiraling flight while emitting a twitter due to stiff feathers that he takes advantage of in his performance. Upon reaching 300 feet or so, he heads back to ground, this time in a zig-zag fashion and making a peculiar liquid-like warble, which sounds to me like an alien’s egg-timer counting down to a perfect soft-boil. While on the singing grounds, you may on occasion be “buzzed”; however, there is no need for alarm, as their eyesight at night is supposedly very good. This “sky-dance” as Leopold so perfectly described it, ends approximately 35 minutes or so after sunset. It is possible to hear them vocalizing and dancing throughout the night, but it is nothing compared to the concert that is just on the darker side of crepusculum.