American Woodcocks have already arrived here in Columbia County and have been detected at various locations including an eBird observation at our Drowned Lands Swamp Conservation Area in Copake on March 21 and at a large wetland in Canaan on March 13. Perhaps you’ll hear one on your next early morning or evening walk, bringing some much-needed excitement and hope during these difficult times.
Want to use the social distance mandate as an opportunity to be a better birder? You can keep track of woodcocks and other birds you see by using the free eBird app!
Here in the Northeast, one of the earliest signs of spring are the peent calls of American Woodcocks returning to their northern breeding grounds. Also known as the timberdoodle, these plump inland shorebirds are about the size of a mourning dove with a long bill and eyes set high on the back of their head allowing them to watch for predators while foraging. Most often detected at dawn and dusk, woodcocks perform dazzling flight displays, peenting and flying in an upward spiral 100-200 feet in the air on whistling wings to attract a mate. These sunrise and sunset performances are quite a spectacular sight and well worth an evening stroll along a shrubby field or wetland.
Nesting season occurs between mid-March and June, when birds lay their eggs on the ground in shallow depressions and are well camouflaged in the brown leaf litter. Only the females stick around to care for the nest, while males continue their breeding displays.
Woodcocks require a diverse mix of habitats to thrive, including shrublands and forests for nesting and feeding, along with new clear-cuts, large fields, pastures, and small openings in the forest for night roosting. Due to the reduction of suitable habitat from development, and the decline in forestry practices and natural disturbance from fire, American Woodcock populations have been in decline in the eastern United States for a few decades.
If you’d like to learn more about how to manage your land for woodcocks and other birds, CLC’s Conservation Education Manager Heidi Bock is offering land management consultations over the phone and virtually, until it’s safe to meet in person again! Send her an email to learn more.