Friday, December 9, 2011

December Woodcock Displaying

I see a lot of interesting things that I never get good pictures of, so these things are rarely mentioned on this blog. For the past two weeks I’ve had a Woodcock displaying in the field behind the house. This occurrence is interesting enough to me to warrant the use of some less than satisfactory photos in the telling of the story. I like to think of this as a Child’s First Camera series of photos. Besides the cloudy conditions, sunset was 20minutes past and conditions were well into gloaming. Not the kind of conditions conducive to clear bird photographs.

Male Woodcock have an elaborate courtship display that includes the peent call given by a bird on the ground, followed by a whistle filled aerial ascent and swooping return to earth. It’s a common occurrence at Blue Jay Barrens each spring, but it’s not supposed to be happening now. Wednesday evening had the woodcock launching from a small clearing in the middle of this field. The bird is hidden by the tall grass, so when you factor in the darkness factor you’re left with a picture of double nothing. Lack of light engaged the camera’s auto-flash, so I did illuminate some of the nearby grass. I deactivated the flash before going on.

Here’s the Woodcock on the wing spiraling upward in ever tightening coils. If you have keen eyesight and a vivid imagination, you can see the Woodcock near the center of the photo. Having a Woodcock displaying in December really confuses me because I equate Woodcock mating season with the imminent approach of spring.

This is not the first December Woodcock to visit Blue Jay Barrens. In 2005 and again in 2006 a Woodcock began displaying in late November and continued through winter and into spring. I wonder if this early display gave the bird a breeding advantage over those birds following a more orthodox display season. A sunset backdrop always provides the viewer a more satisfying experience.

Several mornings have had the bird clearing the trees on its takeoff and passing over the house. Unlike the 05-06 bird that put everything it had into attracting a mate, this individual performs a more subdued display. It displays both morning and evening, but sometimes the display is no more than a few peents and two or three flights. It may even skip a day or two.

It’s not unusual for me to flush Woodcock during the winter. They stay in the low draws and creek bottoms where they probe the wet ground for worms. Performing a mating display all winter long seems like a waste of energy. I can’t imagine that chicks emerging in the middle of winter would have much of a survival rate. I often wonder if that enthusiastic winter displayer ever attracted a mate. Maybe the current bird is a descendent of the earlier winter displayer and carries the early mating genes.


  1. Amazing photograph of the upward spiraling Woodcock! If you make prints, I would pay big bucks for one

  2. Nice shots, as always. But they could also be of a Hummingbird dressed in top hat and tails doing a tap-dance to My Old Kentucky Home.

  3. Thanks Jeff. It's nice to hear from someone who knows quality work when he sees it.

    Hi Mel. I didn't use the hummingbird photo because its smile was crooked.