Dancing with the Stars
The talk around Burr Oak Woods is all about the dance of the American Woodcock. Dancing with the Stars contestants have nothing on this jaunty little fellow!
Last night just as crimson and orange began to diminish in the evening sky, we heard it. Eyes and ears strained in the direction of the sound. “peent!” With senses on high alert, we waited for the next nasal“peent!” There it is! Eyes are wide and the children are pointing toward the western horizon.
The male Woodcock has taken flight in search of a chunky little mate. He flies ever higher with twittering wings in wide elaborate spirals, easily attaining heights of over 300 feet. We almost lose him in our field of view. Suddenly, he chirps and drops from the sky in a death-defying zig-zagging movement, landing silently on the ground with hopes that the female that has gained his attention is nearby to see his spectacular courtship display. Only moments later we begin to hear his “peent” once again.
We seldom get a glimpse of this strange mottled-brown bird of the shorebird family at any other time of the year. Also known as timberdoodles, they live in brushy, early successional forests, easily camouflaging on the forest floor where they probe for worms with their long bills. They have a prehensile bill, similar to that of an elephant’s trunk, used to pluck worms from the soil.
Their strange dance is a phenomenal early sign of spring. We stand mesmerized on the prairie at Burr Oak Woods until the sun’s rays fade away from the sky. “Each of us know that we witnessed something very special,” Phillip Brinkley, naturalist, states. “To see this amazing display that only occurs for a week or two each spring and only for a short window of time each evening is something that few people ever witness.
Come out to Burr Oak Woods with your family, (don’t forget the gates close at 8:00 DST) for your chance to witness his dance. The courtship ritual has been seen on the north section of the conservation area off of Strode Road, and on the east prairie just west of the Missouri Tree Trail. This is one episode of Dancing with the Stars is one you’ll not soon forget!