One more bird story. Promise. (for now) But this is a good one and it demonstrates why I love to go birding with my son.
First, a little about the bird, the American Woodcock. This bird is very secretive and has excellent camouflage so for the most part you are going to hear him before you see him, if you see him at all. An exception to this rule was a woodcock who took up residence right under a window at our friend’s house. He called us and said, “Hey, we got some weird bird here under our window.” We rushed over and was amazed to see a woodcock. Usually they look like this:
If you are trying to find a woodcock, you go out at dusk, starting at the end of March, in a likely habitat. A brushy field is good. Then you listen. If one is in the area he will make a peent! sound, then about 6 seconds later another peent!. This goes on for a while and then he will take off in a crazy zig zag flight (his wings make a twilling sound) and then land pretty much back where he started and call again. He’s looking for a lady friend. Some years we have heard the peent! and one year we heard the flight sound and a dark object whipping through the sky ( just barely). But this year we have had no luck.
Okay. Flash back to Sunday evening, May 10, La Crosse, Wisconsin. My husband and son and I have spent all day birding and now we have gone to dinner in La Crosse. No tiny town. It was Mother’s Day, busy downtown, cars, bars, general ambient sound. It is dusk and we are leaving the restaurant, talking and laughing, while we walk to the car and suddenly my son Nathan says, “Woodcock!” and stops.
“What?” Here? In town?” I say.
“Yes, listen”, he replies.
We shut up and listen. “PEENT!” “PEENT!”
Yep, he heard a woodcock.* They don’t usually make that sound when they fly so it must have been sitting on a roof. We don’t know. But Nathan heard him. And then so did we. I love my son.
*revision: After further consideration based on habitat Nathan feels he heard a Nighthawk. Everything else I spoke about applies. Difficult to find and mostly active at dusk. Calls extremely similar. He still heard it over the noise of the city.