Updated: Oct 24, 2022
Have you ever been walking through the woods or by a field in the early spring right at dusk and heard a strange noise, almost like a phone beeping loudly? MEEP…PEENT…however you might choose to describe the sound, it seems out of place until you see its source.
The American Woodcock is a strange, other-worldly looking little bird. About the size of a robin, but with a bill almost a long as its body, woodcocks bobble and bumble around looking much like they just got off a boat at sea. They look similar to a sandpiper and appear that they should be a bird seen at the beach rather than in the woods of Pennsylvania.
My first experience with the American Woodcock was at a young age when my grandmother and I attended a program about nocturnal animals at Yellow Creek State Park. Woodcock, also affectionately called timberdoodles by some, were the featured animal at the program that evening. After learning about this strange looking bird from the park ranger, we went on a walk near the visitor center at sundown to look and listen for woodcock performing their mating flight ritual. We did not observe or hear the display that night. The display starts with the male calling the peent call in a stationary spot. Then, they take flight and fly in large circles while slowly descending back to the spot they call from. As they fly, their wings make a sort of whistling noise that is unmistakable once you've heard it.
Skip forward several years and I was outside my grandparents' house one spring evening as a rain storm approached from the west. It was an overcast evening with a grey sky. As I was walking, I heard the peent of a woodcock nearby behind the house. I slowly and quietly approached the area I believed the peent was originating from. As I did this I heard the whistling sound the wings of a woodcock make in flight. I stopped and searched the sky. Eventually I spotted the small bird against the grey backdrop the sky provided. It was such an amazing moment to witness this mating display firsthand. After this encounter, I began to have more as I realized that woodcock were in the area. I encountered several crossing the road before. They are a rather docile bird and you can approach quite close before they fly.
I had the privilege of introducing this unique bird to Aaron Capouellez and PA Woods and Forests during my first ever frog walk when we were searching for Wood Frogs. We actually saw at least three that evening and were able to observe their peenting as well as their mating display. It was a captivating experience. So, next spring when you are out in the evening, be sure to listen for the American Woodcock. You might be surprised to find that they live where you live.