Bill Thrune - USFWS
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Signs of Spring: April 13, 1998
"Our rural frogs are singing their country tunes once again," Dawn Osborne of
Johnson County Middle School in Mountain City, TN wrote last week.
Beginning right when the first spring peepers are calling, male American Woodcocks start
"peenting,"--a call that some people even confuse with frogs. Woodcocks are squat, dumpy birds with improbably
long beaks which they use to pull earthworms out of the mud. They call at dawn, dusk, and sometimes all night,
right when peepers are at the height of their singing. To hear what it sounds like, turn up your computer volume
Please report the unique sights and sounds of spring from
Woodcocks don't limit themselves to frog imitations. One by one, the males suddenly take
off into the sky to perform a lovely skydance possible only for a bird. Their wings make a lovely chittering sound
as they spiral skyward. When they reach a height of about 300 feet, they start singing in a liquid
warble, flying round and round in a circle, and then suddenly drop to the ground like a spent leaf to call out
"peent" once again, down with the frogs.
This spectacular performance only takes place when it's too dark for most predators to see woodcocks easily. The
best nocturnal predators, owls, aren't attracted by the low frequency "peents," and the higher pitched
wing and warbling sounds are made as the bird is too high in the air for owls to catch.
People in the eastern United States and Canada hear woodcocks in April, and in northern sites may continue to hear
them in May and sometimes early June.
Woodcocks are very secretive during daytime--it's easier to find the little holes they make probing the soil for
earthworms than to find the birds themselves. But there is a problem with sticking a three-inch-long beak into
the soil. If a woodcock had its mouth open when it stuck its beak in the
soil, it would end up with a mouthful of mud. But if it had its mouth shut, it would have trouble opening it while
all that mud was pressing against it, holding it shut. For this week's Challenge Question, try to figure out how
woodcock's solve this problem.
Challenge Question # 5
"How do woodcocks open their beaks in deep soil without either getting a mouthful of mud--or how do they keep
the soil from holding their long beaks shut?"
Answer to last week's Challenge Question # 4, "Why do grackles have yellow eyes?"
No matter what you guessed about this question, you may be right, because the truth is, no one really knows!
Young grackles have brown eyes at first, so the eye color may help separate the adults from the young during the
fall. It may also help grackles to find and recognize each other in large blackbird flocks. And it may simply
be one way that an otherwise all-black bird shows its vigor and good health to the opposite sex, like the red shoulders
of Red-winged Blackbirds or the vivid orange plumage of orioles.
How to Respond to Today's Challenge Question
1. Address an e-mail message to: email@example.com
2. In the Subject Line of your message write: Challenge Question # 5
3. In the body of EACH message, answer the question above.
The Next Signs of Spring Update Will be Posted on April 27, 1998
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