Dancing at Dusk
By: Karen Menard
Like clockwork---as the curtain of ruby-orange twilight fades to dusk, the “timberdoodle,” or woodcock, makes its grand appearance. At the break of dawn or in the midst of the setting sun every spring, the males take flight over northwest Ohio’s best meadow and prairie habitats.
In March and April, stocky, feathered bodies launch themselves skyward in spiral bounds as phantom silhouettes against the veil of the night sky. Their cosmic journey draws them loudly twittering upward, then, downward again in a rapid, warbling plummet-- similar to an out of control helicopter.
This outdoor spectacle doesn’t have anything to do with migration or finding prey. It ultimately intertwines aerial aerobatics with the allure of an impressive, moonlit dance meant to capture the attention of a waiting female. It is one of the most amazing courtship rituals found in nature.
Woodcocks can still be found “dancing” at dusk in the following Metroparks: Fallen Timbers Battlefield, Oak Openings, Secor, Wildwood, and Swan Creek. This species quietly feeds in nearby thickets or woodland edges both during the day and at night, probing the ground for earthworms with their flexibly tipped, elongated beak.
Did You Know?
During their sky dance, male woodcocks can spiral 300 feet into the air!
Aldo Leopold wrote an essay on this phenomenon called “The Sky Dance” in his 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac.
Click the video link to view a courtship display: