Here are some of the folk names bestowed on week 10’s Bird of the Week: mud bat, mud snipe, brush snipe, bog snipe, bogsucker, night partridge, big-eye, Labrador twister, sky dancer, pop-eyed shot dodger, woody and timberdoodle.
And here, with a hat tip to the City Birder, are some of the words used to describe a group of them: covey, cord, fall, flight, plump and rush. (“Fall” seems to be the most commonly used, although “plump” and “rush” strike me as the most evocative.)
I’ve seen woodcocks before, including here in Brooklyn – typically when I almost step on a well-camouflaged bird and it explodes into flight, a detonation of pale rusty feathers and whirring, whistling wings. That’s more or less what happened in Green-Wood cemetery on Sunday. I knew woodcocks were about, and was hoping to see one, but I’m not accustomed to birding in the cemetery and was a little lost, not to mention frustrated by the absence of even common birds, when I turned onto an uneven stone path (which, like all the uneven stone paths in Green-Wood, had a flowery name: Spirea) and –
I froze and tried to track the bird’s erratic flight, and just as it was disappearing behind a clump of bushes on the other side of the hill –
A second bird headed in roughly the same direction as the first. I chided myself for not having looked down and around and perhaps spotted it on the ground before it took off. I stood and watched as it, too, disappeared behind a clump of bushes. I paused to consider which way to go now, adjusted my binoculars, and then –
Three woodcocks had been practically at my feet, and I hadn’t gotten a good look at any of them. Still, for pure quantity (not to mention the surprise factor), it was a pretty cool sighting. Even though the past week also brought a life bird (snow buntings at Riis Beach) and a first-for-NYC (female northern pintail at the Salt Marsh Nature Center), the American woodcock merits “bird of the week” status by virtue of its weirdness.
It’s one of the all-time great “did you know?” birds.
Did you know that the woodcock’s long beak is prehensile, allowing it to bend and open the tip underground? Did you know that woodcocks can eat their weight in worms each day? Did you know that the placement of their eyes, so far on top of their skulls that they’re almost in back, allows them to watch for danger above while they snuffle about in the dirt? Did you know that to support this configuration, the woodcock’s brain is upside down?
In the spring, when a young woodcock’s fancy turns to love, males seek the attention of females with a nasal “PEEEEEEENT” call. Once they know they’re being checked out, they burst into flight, spiraling upward several hundred feet, then spiraling back down – chirping as they go – to land at the feet of an impressed (or so they hope) female.
I’ve never seen this twilight display. This year, with my intensified birding obsession, I’m hoping to catch them in the act out at Floyd Bennett or some other notorious woodcock love nest.
The week’s full list follows:
108. Snow bunting**
110. Northern pintail*
*New York first
90 to go.