A Surprise in the Net!

Finding a Sharp-shinned Hawk in the net was certainly thrilling.  But when you consider what Sharpies eat, it wasn’t really a surprise…  Last Saturday, I was truly surprised by this bird.  See if you recognize it:

Do you know who I am?

An American Woodcock!  Whoa!  Never expected that!

American Woodcocks, also known as Timberdoodles, are probably most well-known for their springtime courting dance.  Monarch wrote about it and included a video (dark – but cool because you can hear the sounds).  Click here to see (hear) it.  And if you have a copy of Aldo Leopold’s book A Sand County Almanac, read the essay on Woodcocks… it’s brilliant!

The Woodcock is a strange bird.  You’ll find it with the sandpipers in your field guide.  But you’ll have to go to the woods, not the beach, to find it outside.  It’s beak is long and flexible.  In the following photo, J had pried the bill open a bit to try to get a peek at the “teeth” and tongue.

Woodcock - Interesting Beak

I wish I had gotten a picture of what happened next!  When J removed his fingers, the upper bill curved, then straightened!  Woodcocks poke in the dirt with these long flexible bills probing for earthworms.  Their ability to manipulate the end of the bill undoubtedly helps in extracting tasty treats from deep in the soil.

The coloring of a Woodcock makes them excellent at hiding on the forest floor.  Many hikers have been startled when one suddenly rises just where a hiking boot was about to tread.

Woodcock - Camouflage coloring!

This was a big bird and a strong flier.  Tom and J had to work together to band it.  First they had to determine the appropriate size band by using a leg gauge.

Getting Ready to use Leg Gauge on Woodcock

Leg Gauge on Woodcock

Bird PaparazziOnce banded, the poor thing had to endure the Bird Paparozzi.  I’ll bet nearly a hundred photos were taken, many of them by me!



Then Tom let me release it.  He took my camera and shot this series:

About to Release the Woodcock

Release 1

Release 2

Release 3

Release 4

Release 5

Good-bye, Woodcock.  Live long and prosper!

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12 thoughts on “A Surprise in the Net!

  1. What a cool surprise! I have woodcock nesting on my land, although I hardly ever see them except when the male does his spectacular sky dance in the spring.

  2. I especially like this passage from John Burroughs on Woodcocks:

    “Things of the twilight are more elusive and difficult of verification than things of the noon, but they are no less real, and no less a part of the common day.

    I was reminded of this lately on hearing the twilight flight song of the woodcock – one of the most curious and tantalizing yet interesting bird songs we have. I fancy that the persons who hear and recognize it in the April or May twilight are few and far between. I myself have heard it only on three occasions – one season in late March, one season in April, and the last time in the middle of May. It is a voice of ecstatic song coming down from the upper air and through the mist and the darkness – the spirit of the swamp and the marsh climbing heavenward and pouring out its joy in a wild burst of lyric melody; a haunter of the muck and a prober of the mud suddenly transformed into a bird that soars and circles and warbles like a lark hidden or half hidden in the depths of the twilight sky. The passion of the spring has few more pleasing exemplars. The madness of the season, the abandon of the mating instinct, is in every move and note. Ordinarily the woodcock is a very dull, stupid bird, with a look almost idiotic, and is seldom seen except by the sportsman or the tramper along marshy brooks. But for a brief season in his life he is an inspired creature, a winged song that baffles the eye and thrills the ear from the mystic regions of the upper air.

    When I last heard it, I was with a companion, and our attention was arrested, as we were skirting the edge of a sloping, rather marshy, boulder-strewn field, by the “zeep,” “zeep,” which the bird utters on the ground, preliminary to its lark-like flight. We paused and listened. The light of day was fast failing; a faint murmur went up from the fields below us that defined itself now and then in the goodnight song of some bird. Now it was the lullaby of the song sparrow or the swamp sparrow. Once the tender, ringing, infantile voice of the bush sparrow stood out vividly for a moment on that great background of silence. “Zeep,” “zeep,” came out of the dimness six or eight rods away. Presently there was a faint, rapid whistling of wings, and my companion said: “There, he is up.” The ear could trace his flight, but not the eye. In less than a minute the straining ear failed to catch any sound, and we knew he had reached his climax and was circling. Once we saw him whirling far above us. Then he was lost in the obscurity, and in a few seconds there rained down upon us the notes of his ecstatic song – a novel kind of hurried, chirping, smacking warble. It was very brief, and when it ceased, we knew the bird was dropping plummet-like to the earth. In half a minute or less his “zeep,” “zeep,” came up from the ground. In two or three minutes he repeated his flight and song, and thus kept it up during the half-hour or more that we remained to listen: now a harsh plaint out of the obscurity upon the ground: then a jubilant strain from out the obscurity of the air above. His mate was probably somewhere within earshot, and we wondered just how much interest she took in the performance. Was it all for her benefit, or inspired by her presence? I think, rather, it was inspired by the May night, by the springing grass, by the unfolding leaves, by the apple bloom, by the passion of joy and love that thrills through nature at this season. An hour or two before, we had seen the bobolinks in the meadow beating the air with the same excited wing and overflowing with the same ecstasy of song, but their demure, retiring, and indifferent mates were nowhere to be seen. It would seem as if the male bird sang, not to win his mate, but to celebrate the winning, to invoke the young who are not yet born, and to express the joy of love which is at the heart of nature.

    When I reached home, I went over the fourteen volumes of Thoreau’s Journal to see if he had made any record of having heard the “woodcock’s evening hymn,” as Emerson calls it. He had not. Evidently he never heard it, which is the more surprising as he was abroad in the fields and marshes and woods at almost all hours in the twenty-four and in all seasons and weathers, making it the business of his life to see and record what was going on in nature.”

    – John Burroughs – Volume XIII – Leaf and Tendril – Chapter VI

  3. Wow – amazing experience. I’ve never seen one at all, let alone gotten to hold and examine it. Great find and thanks for sharing the experience with us.

  4. That surely is a strange looking bird, yet it looks like he has beautiful feathers. That must have been an exciting experience to catch and band him. Thanks for sharing your day with us.

  5. What a neat bird Jennifer. It seemed larger than I had imagined, but then I’ve never seen one in real life, so now I’ll have a better idea of what to look for in the future.

  6. Pingback: Ruffed Grouse « A Passion for Nature

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