The springtime ritual of the sky dancing woodcock typically happens in low light conditions at dusk or dawn.
Tales and Trails

The spring dance of the woodcock OUTDOOR

Every season has its markers; for example, a tom turkey gob

bling can only mean one thing: Spring has sprung. Other indica tors that the change in seasons is here include blooming lilacs and morel mushrooms. A lesser known harbinger is the spring dance of the woodcock.

The woodcock is actually a migratory game bird that is hunted in the fall and is known to be a pretty tasty bird. It is also known as the timberdoodle, night partridge, big eye, bogsucker, and mudbat. I have never bagged the bird, and honestly, I don’t know that I could ever draw down on one because of the springtime re lationship I have with them. You see, ever since I was a young lad, I always made it a point to try and catch the annual spring time “sky dancer.”

The sky dance that takes place every spring is actually a very unusual but captivating mating ritual. In our area it starts some time in March and continues on through April, all depending on the weather. The reasons we don’t see or hear more about this is because the ritual happens in the very low light conditions of dusk and dawn. The other reason is that it typically happens near water or in low swampy areas.

You now know the when and the where but the what is the best part: the sky dance. The male initiates the dance by picking out a small open area and starts to call or chirp out a “pent” that sounds a little like a short buzzing electrical shock. After he calls, he will wait for a female to mate with. If she doesn’t show, he makes a quarter or half turn and calls again. If she still doesn’t show after he completes a full circle he leaps into the air and starts flying as if traveling up a spiral staircase. The male will continue flying in upward circles until he gets roughly 200 feet in the air and then basically starts an uncontrolled free fall back to Earth. As he tumbles towards his initial take off spot, the wind whistles through his wings which he also hopes will help attract a mate. Seconds before he crashes, he gathers himself and lands back at his original spot and begins the entire dance all over again.

The fun part of all of this is when the male woodcock takes flight, you can sneak in close to his calling spot and get a front row seat. If you lay on the ground and remain quiet and still, the bird will land next to you and start his dance right in front of you.

Last week Big River Rich and I headed down to the Big River Valley to witness the 2022 spring sky dancers. We waited pa tiently for the magic moment when the first pent was heard. After dialing in the location of the male woodcock we bolted towards the dance party when he it jumped into flight. When the male landed to continue his dance, we were there waiting. The only issue, and it was a small one, was the woodcock landed 20 yards away from us. No matter, we were still able to watch him do his thing and another spring time harbinger box was checked.

*To see video of this spring ritual log onto Facebook for Out door Tales and Trails By Dave Beck.

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Photo by Dave Beck


April 26, 2022