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The American Woodcock

Have you noticed? It’s getting lighter closer to breakfast and is still light out after supper! The temperatures have warmed (albeit very slowly) but you know spring is around-the-corner now that the sap buckets are hung and local breakfasts are serving hotcakes and maple syrup.

March 20 is a special day in our calendar year: the Spring or Vernal Equinox. On this date, the entire world will experience 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness. This day marks the seasonal turning point as more direct sunlight will shine on the northern hemisphere (than the southern hemisphere) for the next six months. For the record, our daylight will continue to grow by a couple of minutes a day until the Summer Solstice when we will receive over 15 hours of daylight.

American_Woodcock_Scolopax_minorAs the snow melts and the soil thaws, careful ears and keen eyes will hear and see one of the strangest birds of spring. The American Woodcock (Scolopax minor) is an oddity. Its body is chunky and pear-shaped with a head that attaches to the body in much the same way as a linebacker in the NFL, with a short, thick neck. A long beak that resembles more of an anteater than a bird. Eyes set so far back on the head that it can see above and behind itself. The woodcock is a shorebird, closely related to Snipes and Killdeer, that doesn’t live anywhere near a shoreline. Instead, it inhabits young forests and shrubby meadows.

As you can imagine, a funny-looking bird like the woodcock has resulted in a variety of creative name calling, including timberdoodle, Labrador twister, night partridge, and (my personal favorite) bog sucker. The first two of these names describe the remarkable courtship dance of male woodcocks.

Spring Sky Dance

The male woodcock’s evening display flights are a magical natural sight of springtime. Before taking flight, the male makes nasally “peent” sounds from the ground in an open, grassy area. He then flies upward in a wide spiral several hundred feet into the air. As he gets higher, his wings start to twitter. On the downward flight, he zigzags, chirping and then lands silently near a female. Once on the ground, the male resumes peenting and the display starts over again.

Join the Friends of the Field Station on March 22 at 6:30pm to witness the “Bog Sucker Boogie”. Woodcocks will be all atwitter as they perform their evening aerial song and dance. Join naturalist Bob Faber as he leads a hushed observational walk to look and listen for courting woodcocks. Phone 330.569.6003 or email sorrickmw@hiram.edu to register.

Impressed females are receptive to reproduce and lay eggs in a shallow nest on the ground of young deciduous forests, old fields and even mixed forest-agricultural areas. Within a few hours, the hatchlings leave the nest. The mother feeds the young for only about week and the young are independent and disperse in a month.

Adaptations for survival

Woodcocks are secretive and solitary, depending on their remarkable camouflage to avoid detection. Their long beaks are used to probe mucky soil for their favorite prey, earthworms, and other subterranean creatures such as snails, millipedes, spiders, flies, beetles, and ants. Interestingly, the oddly-positioned eyes far up and back on the heads of Woodcocks is an adaptation that enables them to see predators from above while rooting for food in the soil and leaf litter.

 

More Nearby Nature 

Vernal Poolooza! – March 27 or April 6 (6:30-8:30pm)

Join the vernal pool party and see first-hand how these unique habitats awaken each spring with frogs, salamanders and other aquatic life. Registration is a must (call 330.569.6003 or email sorrickmw@hiram.edu) as below-freezing temperatures will postpone the party. Dress warm, wear waterproof boots and pack a flashlight. Meet at the James H. Barrow Field Station in Hiram Township, located between Hiram and Garrettsville on Wheeler Rd. (between SR 305 and SR 82). The Field Station is managed by Hiram College as a nature preserve for research and education (between SR 82 and SR 305).

 

Life Under a Log – March 29 (1:00-3:00pm) 

Using the book “A Log’s Life” as a guide, this nature program for children will investigate the wonderful world of living things under logs. Children will make their own terrariums to explore forest habitats and take home. Meet at the Garrettsville Library on SR 88 and prepare to hike around the park in search of logs and life. Register by calling 330.569.6003 or emailing sorrickmw@hiram.edu.

 

 

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