Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Sunday: American Woodcocks’ Sound of Spring

When I stepped outside on Sunday night I was greeted by the American woodcock’s nasal “tzeet! tzeet!” call, which is also described by some as “peenting.” The mottled, “football-shaped” bird is well-camouflaged and has large eyes protruding from the side of its head – all the better to see predators coming in the dark. For the twenty years I’ve lived at Spiritwood, woodcocks have nested in the surrounding forests and to me it’s a miracle that all the cats I’ve had have never captured one.

The male woodcock’s aerial display is one of my favourite sights and sounds of the wild. He flies up into the air in a widening spiral shape until he’s almost out of sight. As he flies, his wings start to emit a “twittering” sound – perhaps better described as a whistle – until he suddenly descends, diving back to earth while sporadically making his “tzeet!” call. Once, my husband Eric and I were straining to glimpse the woodcock in the dusk and it astonished us by zigzagging down to the ground, right between us! I don’t know who was more surprised: it or the two of us. It quickly darted off. I wonder whether the female was impressed…

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