Sunday, March 24, 2013

American Woodcock

Twice a year around 5 million birds, representing around 200 different species fly through Chicago.  Some are here only briefly as they head further North, some here for the Summer.  With this first four days of Spring in the early 30's and 15 mph winds I'm surprised so many birds are already back...  Great Blue Herons, thousands of Sandhill Cranes, turkey vultures, lots of duck species.  

One early migrant I've been dying to see for years is the American Woodcock.  They're super goofy looking, and I've heard they have a really sweet late-dusk male mating display preceded by a duck-like peeent sound to get the ladies' attention.  

Looked up bird-sightings on IBET yesterday and saw that the Evanston birding group was taking an evening field trip to try and see the dance.  We arrived at Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie around 7 and finally, after standing in the cold for a half an hour, ready to give up, we heard the peeent....  and waited.  We saw the male silhouette emerge from a small swampy area and take a wide spiral up into the air 200-300 feet while making high-pitched wing twittering sounds.  It then took zig-zagged plunges down toward the female, landing near her then pausing and peenting before heading up again.  So weird!  Fist bump to that, whew.  Hate to drive so far and have hopes high only to get stiffed.

Now I just need to see them up close, jamming their awkwardly long and flexible probing beak into the mud on the search for earth worms.  That might be even more exciting.  Check out Cornell's fact sheet on these birds.

Update:  Yesss!  The picture above was taken at Montrose Bird Sanctuary one week after this post, Easter morning.  I was strolling around, seeing a whole lot of nothing when another birdwatcher told me where he'd seen one scurrying around in the leaves.  After some slow, steady searching I spotted him, he spotted me,  and I proceeded to snap bad photos of him.  I followed while he ran awkwardly from me pausing periodically to see if I'd given up.  I'm now feeling bad for him/her... I wonder if they are frequently spooked by nerders like me.  I guess they're also fair game for hunters too, so they have cause for caution.  Check out the muddy end of its beak!  I wish I could feel it to see how much it flexes.

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