March 27, 2016

Woodcock Sky Dance


The American Woodcock has got to be Mother Nature's most ridiculous concoction. With its oddly-placed eyes and grotesquely long bill, its appearance alone nominates it as candidate for goofiest-looking creature alive.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
When it walks, it bounces its body back and forth in a most comical way:

Source: YouTube

As if that weren't enough, during its mating display it makes a strange "peent" sound, like a high-pitched game show buzzer, as captured nicely in this Lang Elliott video:

Source: YouTube

The "peent" is the prolog of an elaborate mating display called a "sky dance", where the bird flutters its way up high into the sky, making a continuous twitter as it ascends; the twitter eventually sputters to a peak, after which it drops erratically like a leaf, making an odd "chowp" sound as it descends, to land at its starting point. This sky dance is performed at dusk, usually when it's too dark to be seen. But with an infrared camera, we get to see what this sky-dance looks like.

The Skydance Infrared Video

And so, without further ado, here's a thermal infrared video of a full woodcock sky dance. Listen for a soft "gulp" preceding each "peent".

In this next video, I positioned myself closer to the woodcock's stage, and was pleased when the bird landed about 30 feet away. The "gulp" preceding each "peent" is louder and more nuanced, reminiscent of a dove's cooing. What happened next was a total surprise...

The videos were taken with a Therm-App HZ using the ThermAppPlus app, on a Nexus 7 tablet. Audio is from the Nexus 7's built-in microphone, with the volume normalized to the loudest peent. The first video uses a 19mm lens, the second a 35mm lens, which had to be manually refocused when the bird got too close to me.

The original MP4 files as recorded by ThermAppPlus are available at

And Now For Some Fun

Here are a couple of fun YouTube woodcock remixes.

Source: YouTube

Source: YouTube