Sunday, March 1, 2009

Timberdoodle Time

It’s time for the show, and I’ll be in the audience – if I’m able to locate the venue.

The migratory bird known variously as the bog-sucker, mud bat, big-eye, night partridge, American woodcock, or by what some may describe as the more socially acceptable moniker of timberdoodle, is due to arrive in Central Ohio any day now. The timberdoodle is an odd looking bird that upon its arrival commences an entertaining courtship display.

Early this past summer I spotted my first timberdoodle. I visited a pond, and was walking its edge surveying the springtime plants emerging there. This pond's overflow passes into moist, low-lying woodland.

As I walked, I heard what sounded somewhat like a solitary cicada flying near the edge of the woods. While I continued walking, it occurred to me that it was too early in the season for cicadas, or their cousin the Dogday Harvestfly. Looking to the spot from where the sound had come, I spotted a stumpy, chunky, long billed, caricature of a bird – it was a timberdoodle. The sound that I had heard was the twittering sound that is produced by wind passing through the flying bird’s outer wing feathers.

A seasonal inhabitant of brushy, moist wooded areas, the timberdoodle arrives in late February or early March when the male will attempt to woo the female with what she-timberdoodles have described as embarrassing and foolish, but the males know to be extremely cool.

The male chooses a woodland edge or clearing to call his own then, as dusk approaches and young avian hearts turn to thoughts of amoré, the courting ritual begins. After producing a regular buzz, or what is often described as a “peent, peent, peent” sound, the male takes off and flies as high as 300 feet into the air, before spiraling and darting downward, while producing a variety of twittering sounds in his descent to the launch pad. From there he will repeat this show of machismo until (he hopes) a female arrives to satisfy his need for an ego-massage... among other things.

The woods that surround my home and lie along the creek and its adjacent floodplain are perfect habitat for the timberdoodle. Many a March sunset has found me on the fringe of a woodland opening, listening and waiting - eyes pointed skyward. My family finds my motionless, sentinel-like watch in the frigid dusk to be their own amusing form of springtime entertainment, since, after some years of trying, I’ve yet to personally witness the timberdoodle’s annual display of aerial acrobatics.

Franklin County Metro Parks offers free opportunities to view this event in programs called Woodcock Watch, Woodcock Walk or Timberdoodle Time. Anyone interested can find scheduled dates and times at:

Myself... I’ll be in some of my usual places, waiting patiently as squirrels curse me and the sun drops over the horizon. This year I believe I’ll start my vigil at that pond where I saw my first timberdoodle - it’s been awhile since I’ve visited and I’m long overdue.
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