Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Now, Woodcock Walk It Out

American Woodcock
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I was at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge for work today, and despite the wind, I managed to see some pretty impressive wildlife. One was this fella, who was hunkered down on an asphalt service road, trying to keep warm. When our truck approached, he launched into his dance (see also below, and the movie link below).
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The little woodcock is a bit of enigma in several ways - primarily because it's a shorebird that lives not on the coastal mudflats, but in the forests, more specifically, shrub wetlands, and even more specifically, wet alder thickets where the soil is still dry enough to support earthworms...the woodcock's favorite food. The greatest threat to it are the loss of habitat to humans, followed by the natural succession of shrub habitat into mature forest habitat (which holds more woodcock predators). The natural pattern of forest fires on the east coast has been so disturbed that natural shrub habitats are becoming pretty rare, as they age and are taken over by aggressive tree species.
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The American Woodcock is basically restricted to the eastern half of the United States, where it's still occasionally sought out as a high (culinary) quality game bird. Males are territorial and female birds visit the nesting territories of several males each spring before choosing one for a nest site.
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So what's up with that crazy strutting dance? There are two theories. One is that the dance evolved from a male vs. male territorial display into a mating display. The other is that the dance evolved from a feeding behavior (shaking the ground to stir up more delicious worms) into a mating display. Regardless, I give, you, the strutting woodcock.



3 comments:

Live to Hunt.... said...

The narrator on the video is hysterical! Question - is the woodcock the same as what we call the Snipe on the west coast? I hear people discuss them intercahangibly but I thought there was a species difference.

Swamp Thing said...

Good question! I had to look it up - several snipe and woodcock species are in the same genus, and all of them are in the same family. At least out here on the east coast, snipe are always found out in the salt marsh grasses and flats - woodcocks "might" be found in the "high tide bush" on the edge of the salt marsh, but prefer freshwater shrub wetlands. Their feeding behavior is very different as well.

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