Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

Woodcock passing by, drawing by Jim Conrad
drawing by Jim Conrad, from his book The Natchez Naturalist Newsletter

from the January 4, 2004 Newsletter issued from the woods of the Loess Hill Region a few miles east of Natchez, Mississippi, USA

After last week's mention of the American Woodcock currently at home in our Loblolly Field, Cheryl up in Michigan wrote telling me how a naturalist she had known coaxed woodcocks into flight. It's done with the "Timberdoodle dance." "Timberdoodle" is another name for the American Woodcock, at least up there. The bird also goes by the names of Pepperdoodle, Bog Sucker and Big Eye.

The dance consists of first pinching your nostrils shut with your fingers, then calling "peent." Cheryl further writes, "As you make the 'peent' sound you bend your knees, which lowers your body 1-2 feet. Then you straighten back up, rotate your body ¼ turn and repeat the 'call and dip,' allowing 10-20 seconds between each 'peent.'... After each 'peent' rotate ¼ turn before 'calling and dipping.'"

On Tuesday night, at about 5:30, just as the sky was visible but everything else lay deep in shadows, I went near where I'd seen our woodcock and "peented." I didn't bother with bending my knees, but I did pinch my nose and rotate my body somewhat between each call. After several series of calls it got so dark that I figured that any nocturnal bird by then would be busy at work, and started my return walk to camp.

But then all in less than a second I heard heavy flapping attended by a sharp whistling sound, and I looked up just in time to see an absurdly chunky- looking little being with stubby rounded wings and a long, needle-like beak, zooming past me, exactly at the level of my nose. If I had enjoyed more sense of presence than to jump backwards, throw out my arms and yell "Jeeze!" I might have been able to reach out and grab me a Timberdoodle.

I had assumed that the idea behind peenting was to encourage the courtship display, which is very complex and interesting, and which I've seen in Kentucky but not here. However, maybe you peent just to attract the bird. If that's the case, I'm not sure I'll be peenting much, at least not wearing a helmet.