With the first hints of spring, American Woodcocks return to the Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge to breed.
Woodcocks are actually upland shore birds that don’t live at the shore at all, but live in deciduous woodlands. Every winter they move south but it is one of the first birds to migrate back to the northern forests. When they arrive back on the Refuge, the resulting courtship display is not to be missed!
After a series of nasal peent calls, the male springs into the air and begins to spiral upward, often to nearly 300 feet. Then, he zigzags his way to the ground like a falling leaf, often landing at almost the exact point of takeoff.
Timberdoodles, as American Woodcocks are frequently called, are odd looking birds with a chunky body, short legs, long narrow bill, and round head with bulging eyes on the sides. The location of the eyes allow him to see all around while he has his long bill poked into the ground or mud in search of food.
American Woodcocks are most easily found on the Refuge at the Columbia Mine Preserve along Timberdoodle Trail. Arrive just before dusk and listen for the peent call of the Woodcock. Quietly and slowly move toward the sound and then look at the skies around you. At the twilight hour, if you are lucky, you will see a bird skyrocketing up in the air and then slowly falling back to earth. He will do this several times as the female sits on the ground watching and listening to the display. If he has successfully impressed her they will have a brief encounter.
Early March is the best time to experience the American Woodcock courtship display. So grab your binoculars and head to the Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge to see the “Sky Dance” of the Timberdoodle. It will put a smile on your face and warm your heart even on a chilly spring evening.