Males do their spectacular sky dances
twice a day at dawn and dusk from mid-March to early June. The
evening display starts about 20 minutes after sunset on clear nights
or about 7 minutes earlier on cloudy evenings. The display period
lasts 30 to 40 minutes until dark, but may go on and off all night
when the moon is bright. Each sky dance lasts about one minute.
Usually there are 10 to 20 flight displays before dark. The morning
display begins about one half hour before sunrise.
Listen for the nasal nighthawk-like
peent call coming from the ground in an open area. This call is
often mistaken for a Common Nighthawk long before it has returned
from the south. At close range listen for the muffled hiccup call
just before the peent call. You will soon hear a continuous
twittering whistle of the wings and probably see the male as he
makes his first rise into the air. Fluttering in circles overhead,
it looks like a bat and the twittering becomes faster. The
twittering sound is made by air rushing through the three outer
primaries which are stiffer and much narrower than the others. The
height of the spiral is about 60-90 metres. At the apex of its
spiral and during the steep zigzagging plummet back to the ground,
the male utters a clear liquid chirping song, which intensifies and
fills the night air. This song lasts 10-12 seconds and ends suddenly
just before landing. Back on the ground, the peenting calls
resume, followed again and again by sky dances. Rarely heard is a
sharp cac-cac-cac that is given by the rival (chasing) males.
How to hear and see an American Woodcock
Pick a mild evening with no wind. Find a
quiet area with a mixture of young forest and scattered openings.
Try to avoid wet areas with loud singing frogs. The trick to seeing
a woodcock is to locate a male's singing ground by listening for its
ground call and aerial song.
Take advantage of trees and shrubs to
obscure your silhouette. Stand perfectly still and wait for the
woodcock to drop back to the ground. In more open areas, you will
have better results if you kneel. Since the ground is often damp,
you will feel more comfortable if you wear rain pants to kneel.
Please DO NOT approach too closely or bother them if they seem
disturbed and do not trespass on private land.