Saturday, February 25, 2017

An Illustrated Life List: American Woodcock

American Woodcocks, Scolopax minor performing their aerial mating display.  They spiral up into the sky then zig-zag back down to ground.  Along the way, stiff feathers on the wings produce a variety of chirps and twitters.  Woodcocks display in the early spring at dusk and dawn. 
This dramatic display is at odds with the woodcock's normally secretive and ground hugging habits.  Everything about Woodcocks except the mating displays is built around a very terrestrial life style.  The brown and grey feathers come together to make patterns that allow them to virtually disappear into their surroundings.  Their beak is very long and skinny (and doesn't really seem to belong on the bird's small head).  It appears to pull the whole bird downward to the ground which, not surprisingly, is where Woodcocks find their food.  They poke the mud and dirt in search of worms.  Their vermicular searches are aided by a beak tip that has a sense of touch and a bit of flexibility.  Though their whole head is oriented in an earthly direction, their gaze is often directed up and outwards by eyes that are situated far back along the sides of the heads, watching for potential predators.