Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — April 2012

Watching Woodcock at Canoe Creek State Park

by Dr. Stan Kotala

As the days grow longer, one of our heralds of spring, the American woodcock, begins performing a springtime ritual that is fascinating to observe. Around dawn or dusk, and sometimes throughout the night if the moon is bright, males will frequent fields and openings near moist woodland habitat to perform courtship displays.

During the display, the male begins making a “peent” sound on the ground for about a minute which is followed by his spiraling to several hundred feet above ground while creating a twittering sound with his wings. He then descends, making a chirping sound, landing at the point of takeoff. The sequence is then repeated, and the entire display may last close to an hour.

The woodcock has brown, black and buff mottled plumage, and large eyes set far back on its head and long bill. The sexes are similar in appearance, with females being a little larger and having a slightly longer bill. The American woodcock is a member of the wading bird family which includes snipe, plovers and killdeer.

Woodcock are usually solitary and are active during daylight and, periodically, nighttime hours. During the daytime, they are found in moist, young forests with adequate understory where they use their long, flexible-tipped bill to probe for the earthworms that make up the bulk of their diet. They also consume various insect larvae, ants, crickets, and beetles. During the night, they use nearby fields and openings to roost, feed and mate.

An excellent place to observe the woodcock’s ritual is Canoe Creek State Park in Blair County. This park encompasses close to a thousand acres in Turkey Valley, between Brush Mountain and Lock Mountain in the ridge and valley portion of Blair County. It is a relatively new state park, having been dedicated in 1979, and is composed of former farms and woodlots.

Preferred places to observe the woodcock”s display are in the moist fields between the park office and Pavilion 1, the Mary Anne’s Creek Marsh, and along the Beaver Pond Trail.

Both the Canoe Creek Watershed and the adjacent Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River have been designated as Important Bird Areas (IBAs) by the Pennsylvania Biological Survey. More than 220 species of birds have been documented in these two IBAs, including 15 Species of Special Concern in Pennsylvania.

If you want to study the park in greater depth, you may want to stay at one of its eight beautiful, modern cabins overlooking the lake. Within a 15-minute drive from the park is State Game Lands 166, which offers 11,000 acres of excellent forest, wetland, and riparian birding, and the 16-mile Lower Trail along the Juniata River’s Frankstown Branch for outstanding river-valley birding.

On Saturday April 14, Juniata Valley Audubon will host a field trip to observe the courtship flight of the American Woodcock at Canoe Creek State Park. Meet at Pavilion 1 in the park at 7:30 p.m. Contact trip leader Dr. Stan Kotala at 946-8840 or at ccwiba@keyconn.net for more details.

If You Go: From State College, take Rt 26 south to Pine Grove Mills. Continue straight at the light in Pine Grove Mills on Rt 45 and follow Rt 45 west to Rt 453. Turn left onto Rt 453 south and follow it to Rt 22 at Water Street. Turn right onto Rt 22 west and follow it for 11 miles to Canoe Creek State Park.

Dr. Stan Kotala is the Outings Co-Chair for the Moshannon Group of the Sierra Club.