Farmer’s Calendar for March 2017

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A Spring Without Woodcocks Dancing

While out walking yesterday, the dogs froze and stared into some scrub pines at a round brown bird with a long straight bill walking in the snow.

I’d never seen a woodcock walking. Dancing, yes. In mating season, normally mid-March to mid-May, male woodcocks appear at dawn or dusk in scrubby open meadows and announce their presence with a loud, buzzing peent.

After four or five such calls, the male launches himself vertically into the sky, climbing as high as 100 yards before spiraling back down to the ground, singing a liquid trill while the wind in its stubby wings twitters eerily.

If this display attracts a female, the male dances for her, hopping and bowing and peenting lustily. It’s a comical sight, which may have inspired one of the bird’s nicknames—the timberdoodle. If nature takes its course, the female will nest on the ground and raise four chicks. This is usually an unfailing harbinger of spring.

But we’ve had a brutal winter, with record cold and late snowfall. The woodcocks can’t dig earthworms and insects out of the frozen ground with their tubelike bills. They are walking because they’re starving.
It’s not exactly a silent spring: I heard the conk-la-ree of red-winged blackbirds this week—but no peenting.

 

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