A nasal, cartoon-road-runner-in-slow-motion-reminiscent sound leaped from the thick undergrowth on the edge of a swamp and an old field at dusk. The frequency of these somewhat duck-like, uninterested sounds increased slowly: Peent….Peent… Peent…. as more individuals joined the chorus, or one bird got more loquacious. The peeper choir turned on. Then off. Three mourning doves flew by with their classic whistling wingbeats, crashing into the dense branches in a tree canopy nearby. We waited, listened, and watched.
Suddenly, a pincushion with its proportionate sword flew just feet above our heads—so fast we ducked in response after it passed. This chunky, long-billed pincushion of a bird was an American Woodcock, also called a “timberdoodle” for some (adorable) reason. He flew straight up—100 feet or more –and began to fly loop-de-loops in the sky, accentuated by lyrical wingbeats. On his ascent, quick high whistling notes drew our attention (and ideally, the female of the species); on his descent, slower “kissing-sounds” burbled in the sky before his silent landing in the old field.
He continued his monotone call from this open space, hoping to attract some females with his voice, the twittering of his wingbeat, and his ostentatious dance during flight. Other males followed suit, appearing to take turns in the sky.
Soon it was quite dark, so we walked out of the field, folded ourselves through the ancient wooden fence imprisoned by barbed wire, and walked the dirt road back to the car, hearing “peents” the whole way.
For the best video I could find of the flight (it’s so fast and high!), click here.