Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Address: 1 Lesle Street
Date: April 2019
Spring is in the air. As the sun is setting, the courtship dance of the American woodcock is about to begin. We joined an enthusiastic group of birders on Toronto's Leslie Spit to see this strange little bird in action.
The American woodcock is a weird looking creature that has a round body, short legs, and a long bill. Woodcocks also have their eyes up high on the sides of their head. This lets them see 360 degrees. They use their long bills to pull worms from the soil. They can actually open and close just the tip of their beak to grab a worm underground as if using a small set of tweezers. In Ontario, breeding woodcocks arrive in mid-April and courtships can last until the end of May.
Our group had come to the Spit just before sunset specifically to view the courtship display. After some discussion from our group leader explaining what we would be seeing, we drove to a bend in Unwin Avenue and pulled over to the edge of the road. Woodcocks like to breed in pastures, small forest openings or along a roadside. A male will mate with as many females as it can and has no involvement in the nesting or caring for the chicks. It is however, up to the females to decide if they are impressed with a male woodcock's performance and agree to mate.
Let the dance begin!
It wasn't long after we parked that the woodcocks began to perform. There were about three males competing in the area surrounding us. Tonight they would have to attract a female by making their presence known over the occasional traffic noise and a group of about 15 noisy humans. You can hear the sounds the woodcocks make if you listen carefully to the video below.
First the woodcock makes what is called a "Peent" sound. It will do this several times as it turns in place. Next it will suddenly fly up into the air and do several large circular passes. Its primary wing feathers create a twittering sound as the wings flap through the air. After making the larger circles it heads back down to the ground much like a stunt plane at an air show. It returns in small tight spirals to land almost exactly where it started from. If no female approaches then it starts the whole process over again. A male woodcock will do this courtship display every night during the breeding season.
As darkness took over, the performances continued. We decided that standing on a poorly lit street staring up at the sky while traffic came around a sharp bend in the road behind us was not where we wanted to be. We wished the woodcocks the best of luck and headed home. Once again, the beauty and complexity of nature had amazed us.
Map of Our World
Tommy Thompson Park (Baselands)
Post # 249