The American woodcock is an interesting bird, and its spring mating flights, which happen just after sunset, often draw curious humans. Credit: Courtesy of Pam Wells

I’m sad to admit that for most of my life, I had no idea that American woodcock were such predictable showoffs. In fact, until I headed afield with a pair of woodcock experts five years ago, I knew little about their spring mating rituals, which include impressive aerial shows designed to entice a mate.

Thankfully, since working on that story, I’ve not forgotten the lessons that Brad Allen and Dan McAuley taught me, and have tried to share with BDN readers (and random friends) as often as possible. Lessons like this: On a clear night, go outside 22 minutes after sunset, and you might end up watching quite a show.

That’s what I did last week, in a column that celebrated the return of a single bird to a patch of grass near my house. In a world turned sideways by the coronavirus, that predictability made a difference to me, and I felt the need to share.

And it turns out that BDN readers were also eager to celebrate this wonderful little bird and its spectacular spring sky dance. Here are a few replies I thought you’d enjoy.

Thanks for the suggestion

From Annie Winchester of Pemaquid: Thank you so much for your article about woodcocks in the BDN. I’ve seen a woodcock only once before in my life.

This evening I went out at precisely 22 minutes after sunset and stood in the nearby field looking up at the evening star. Across the cove the sky glowed deep orange just above the treeline. I no sooner pulled down the hood of my jacket when I heard “PEEENT!” Oh, I was so excited. And then from the edge of the field near the border of trees, up shot a hopeful woodcock. He looked as though he was heading right for that evening star. My heart soared right with him.

In just 10 minutes I saw four flights, heard many “PEEENTS”, and also what I think might have been impressed murmurings from lady woodcocks.

It was a lovely experience, and I can’t thank you enough for sharing your suggestion (and tips) with your readers!

May you have as lovely an evening as I’m now enjoying.

Calmed and grounded

From Nan Heald: Thank you for today’s beautiful essay — as many of us prepare to shift to working from home, this is a good reminder of the ways we can be calmed and grounded by the natural world. And it gives me a great excuse to start searching for woodcock in my neck of the woods.

Providing habitat

From Pam Wells: I saw your story about woodcocks coming back. We have a lot in our forest on Stud Mill Road. I haven’t seen any this year, yet but we made a “patch cut” area in our forest and they do like that spot. I’ll check out if they are coming back this week. I do love them.

Poem of appreciation

From Sue Shaw of Penobscot: I saw my first one of the year on St. Patrick’s Day but have not heard one yet. I do love the woodcock!

I don’t think I have sent you this [poem] yet … if I have, forgive me, but it is one of my favorites and I would rather send it twice than not at all!

Dusk Dance

Last night at dusk, I thought … “Perchance …

I’ll go and watch the woodcock dance!”

The field, a rock strewn, rolling moor

Transformed into his ballroom floor

Lit by a full moon’s silver sheen,

His stage glowed blue with hints of green.

The peeper backup played along,

As the woodcock sang his nasal song…

Repeated wordless, love-struck cries

Then he exploded toward the skies…

His circling whir a siren’s song

To lure his lady…but ‘fore long

He dropped to earth to then begin

His springtime repertoire again.

All through the dusk he sings, then flies

And dances in the soft spring skies.

My evening walk was much enhanced …

I was in the field when the woodcock danced!

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John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. He spent 28 years working for the BDN, including 19 years as the paper's outdoors columnist or outdoors editor. While...