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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Arb Notes: Woodcock Funk

With a funky tune in the background, a plump, long-beaked brown bird treads daintily, bobbing its body back and forth while keeping its head perfectly stable and keeping up with the beat. You might have seen such a video (if not, here’s an example: — and truly, what a sight! Those impeccable moves, that nonchalant look in front of a camera — it would be a challenge to refrain from grinning or tapping along.

But, of course, this feathered talent isn’t actually dancing to the music. Said dancer, an American Woodcock (Scolopax minor), is walking while shifting its weight between feet as part of its foraging technique: The vibrations generated by this motion would prompt earthworms — their food — to move underground, therefore making themselves more detectable to the bird’s sensitive beak.

Another spectacular display of the woodcock called “sky dancing” occurs in early spring, at dawn and dusk. This is the male courting behavior, where the bird first does a few rounds of a buzzy “peent” call on the display ground and then takes to the air, spiraling upwards before descending in a zigzag pattern. If you are lucky, you might be able to witness this in the Arb!

In addition to the woodcock, other members of the sandpiper family (Scolopacidae), such as the Wilson’s Snipe (Gallinago delicata), also perform the funky, bobbing step. The Wilson’s Snipe has also been observed in the Arb, though less commonly.


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