My Column: American Woodcock, Video Star
March 02, 2023
Nothing is quite as goofy as a woodcock walking in the snow. Photo credit: Monica Martin
My latest column for The Record is all about a goofy bird now appearing in a wet woodland near you, and a goofy 15-second video I made from my window a few years back.
You can read it here. (The column features a great woodcock photo by Monica Martin, above).
Special to The Record
On a snowy March morning five years ago, I looked out my living room window to see whether any birds were visiting my feeders. To my surprise, I saw an extremely odd bird waddling along the stream.
The bird was shaped like little football, with huge eyes and a chopstick for a bill, and it appeared to be doing a dance called the Funky Chicken.
I recognized the bird, immediately: American woodcock.
I grabbed my camera and did a quick 14-second video. On a lark, I added some goofy royalty-free tuba music by a composer named Kevin MacLeod, uploaded it to YouTube, and pretty much forgot about it.
Then the strangest thing happened – again and again and again. Folks started watching the video and leaving comments. I have had more than 94,000 views and more than 90 comments, most of which went something like these:
* “Dancing woodcock vids are starting to become a new source of happiness for me.”
* “It's amazing how still they hold their heads while dancing.”
* “You cannot convince me that the Internet was not made for this.”
That the video has become so popular is certainly no testimony to my video skills. After all, some YouTube woodcock videos – and there are plenty – have racked up nearly a million views.
Instead, my video is Exhibit A for just how charismatic the American woodcock is. Exhibit B is the photo accompanying this column. It is of a woodcock waddling along in the snow, with a gait reminiscent of Monty Python’s ministry of silly walks.
It’s no surprise this robin-sized shorebird is such a media star. It has that crazy locomotion when it walks or dips its head to consume its diet of worms.
The goofy head-bobbing and other antics have earned it such nicknames as “timberdoodle,” “bog-borer,” “big eyes,” “wood snipe,” and “mud bat.” As the weather warms, a woodcock might appear soon in a damp woodland near you.
They will come out just after twilight when the male will put on a dazzling courtship flight in hopes of attracting a mate. You know you’re in the right place when you hear them make a strange buzzing noise onomatopoetically called a “peent.”
The display itself involves flying in circles up to several hundred feet in the air while making strange chirps that the females seem to find irresistible.
Footnote: My little woodcock video saga did not end with the brief YouTube video. The South Korean Public Broadcasting System station KLAB incorporated snippets of my video into its own woodcock video extravaganza, which has garnered another 371,000 views. That’s not bad for a video I made without ever leaving the living room.
You can view both videos at celeryfarm.net.
The Bird Watcher column appears every other Thursday. Jim’s next book, "The Screech Owl Companion," will be published by Timber Press. Email Jim at [email protected].