Friday, March 19, 2010

Citations from Lytle Blankenship on nesting Woodcock Behavior

Lytle Blankenship, one of our resident Texas experts on Woodcocks sent me the following which pretty much confirms a breeding bird as most of this behavior was seen or heard today including that described in the last 2-3 paragraphs. I may return if I can relocate the exact spot, though I would very much hate to draw predators to the location with my scent. From what Lytle sent I may well have been standing on the birds.

Here is what Lytle sent: Wow!.........................................

You may not have Dr. Sheldon's book "The American Woodcock" so thought I would copy some comments. I vaguely remembered some of these comments from a much earlier time in my life and some similar actions I noted by the Woodcock.

Page 72: "The hen flew 20 feet with her tail depressed and legs hanging. She alighted on a nearby road and feigned injury, crying not unlike a Ruffed Grouse hen disturbed with a brood. I left the scene and returned an hour later; the hen had returned to the nest, where I flushed her again. .......Concealing myself, I watched her return to the nest; she walked across a dirt road in front of me. Her gait was measured, with the waltzing and bobbing motion usual when a woodcock is nervous or disturbed. When she reached cover across the road, she sneaked to the nest, reoccupying it 20 minutes after I had flushed her."

Page 75: "The mother woodcock is very solicitous of her offspring (Figure 28). A hen brooding her chicks can be caught with a hand net, so reluctant is she to move. When flushed from her brood she makes a labored flight with her legs hanging and her tail depressed (Figure 29). I have seen her lead a dog away, keeping just ahead of him. When she has lured an enemy 100 yards or more from her chicks, she resumes rapid flight, rising swiftly. Then quickly circling around, she lights within a few feet of her brood. If the chicks are a week or more old and off the nest, she calls them with a low chur-chur."

Similar comments were made by Dr. Andy Ammann in "A Guide to Capturing and Banding American Woodcock."
Page 11: "If nothing happens or a bird flushes practically under your feet, you've probably got yourself a brood or a nest. If the bird's flight (assuming it flushed) is slow and laborious, with legs and tail dangling and it flies only a short distance (10 to 15 yards), you can be sure of it. Then, after alighting, the hen may go through elaborate injury-feigning tactics which will sorely tempt your dog to chase her (but don't let him). A hen flushed from a nest may also exhibit such decoying behaviour, but to a lesser degree, and will usually fly farther."

If you bear with me, I have one more author's comments (Henry Marion Hall - "Woodcock Ways"). Pp 22-23: "When I stepped within a foot of her treasures, this brave little bird fluttered up and made off in a ludicrous manner, her tail only just topping the weeds, her bill and body nearly vertical, and the beat of her wings simulating helplessness. Woodcock and grouse will often roll over or scuffle, pretending to trail a broken wing, to lure an intruder away from her chicks, but this is the only case in which I have seen a bird show such solicitude concerning mere eggs............Suddenly a woodcock faltered up at my feet without making the usual twitter. Instead, it hovered within a foot of my face, buzzing its pinions like a hummingbird, and whirling as if held back by the encompassing branches. This bird may have been tempting me to snatch at it in mid-air. When I failed to budge, it presently dropped into the undergrowth, still registering helplessness and flapping spasmodically. As she retreated I glanced down and discovered four young, not quite half grown...................."

Not sure if these are of any value but here they are anyway. Thanks for your records and descriptions.

Lytle (

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