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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

    Arb Notes

    <ast Friday evening the Arb Naturalists enjoyed the opportunity to watch the mating display of the American Woodcock, a brown mottled seagull-like bird with a long bill. The complex “sky dance” of the male woodcock takes place during sunset each evening starting in April and commencing in May. The display is best described by Aldo Leopold in an essay from “A Sand County Almanac.”

    “Knowing the place and the hour, you seat yourself under a bush to the east of the dance floor and wait, watching against the sunset for the woodcock’s arrival. He flies in low from some neighboring thicket, alights on the bare moss, and at once begins the overture: a series of queer throaty peents spaced about two seconds apart, and sounding much like the summer call of the nighthawk.”

    “Suddenly the peenting ceases and the bird flutters skyward in a series of wide spirals, emitting a musical twitter. Up and up he goes, the spirals steeper and smaller, the twittering louder and louder, until the performer is only a speck in the sky. Then, without warning, he tumbles like a crippled plane, giving voice in a soft liquid warble that a March bluebird might envy. At a few feet from the ground he levels off and returns to his peenting ground, usually to the exact spot where the performance began, and there resumes his peenting.”

    Unlike many local birds, male Woodcocks are not seasonally monogamous. They may continue to display and attract more mates after fertilizing their first clutch. But its not just the males; the females may also proceed to additional “peenting” grounds after laying their first clutch.

    The “dancefloor,” as refered to by Leopold, was on the homestead of Professor Gary Wagenbach. If you are interested in seeing this display (before the end of May), please contact Nancy Braker, and we can arrange a Naturalist trip to see the “Sky Dance”.

    Reminder: Annual Arb Bird Count will be held Saturday, May 17th from 6 to 9am. Email Nancy Braker with questions.

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