The things we do for love: Flight of the Woodcock

It’s spring and romance is in the air. Literally. While people are known to hire sky writers or airplanes to profess their love,  there’s a tiny bird that is the king of outrageous and romantic gestures  – The American Woodcock.

On a recent Audubon expedition to Cherokee Marsh, me and about 20 other bird enthusiasts went to experience what Aldo Leopold describes as sky dancing. 

At dusk, exactly 8:10 pm, our guide Levi Wood led us to a meadow east of the parking lot where we heard our first “peent” — the pinched, throaty sound of the male woodcock.  While we can’t see him, Wood tells us that he’s walking around in a circle on a soft mound of grass or moss preparing for flight.

The bird peents and then pauses, peents and then pauses, up to a dozen times before spiraling into the air 200 feet. On the way up, the bird’s wings make a twittering sound. On the way down, he warbles excitedly, all the while careening  downward like a crippled plane, again Leopold’s words. He lands in silence back on the same spot he started from where he begins peenting again.

Peent, Twitter, Warble. Repeat.

This goes on until dusk has faded and darkness sets in, unless of course there’s a full moon. The light has to be just right for this romantic bird. Meanwhile, somewhere in the brush, a female woodcock stands by. If she’s impressed, they mate.

No one really know why male woodcocks do what they do, but then no one knows why anyone does what they do for love. It’s Spring and love is definitely in the air.

The flight of the woodcock continues at sundown through May at Cherokee Marsh and the UW-Arboretum. To hear the full peent, twitter, warble vocalization go the Cornell Ornithology Lab’s website:


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