Sunday, February 27, 2005

Red-winged Blackbird and American Woodcock

Dear Readers,


I missed last weeks entry. Was busy on a little birding trip. Will elaborate on this in an upcoming entry. Over the last week and a half the Red-winged Blackbirds (Aeglaius phoeniceus) and the American Woodcock (Scolopax minor) have returned to northern Illinois. Red-winged Blackbirds are generally found in wet areas around marshes and fields. They usually feed and roost in large flocks. The red-shouldered male can only be confused with the Tricolored Blackbird (Agelaius tricolor) which is found locally in the central and western California. Females are very different than males and can be initially hard to identify. They resemble large sparrows, but are dark above and more heavily streaked below and have longer spiky bills and a buffy eyebrow. The Red-winged Blackbird’s song is an energetic conk-a-ree and when singing are heard usually 4 to 9 times a minute. Aeglaius is Latin for gregarious. Phoeniceus refers to deep red in reference to their wing patches. They are among the most numerous land bird in North America.

The American Woodcock is most easily seen at dusk on the edges of fields or other open areas near thickets, swamps or wet woods. They are a master of camouflage. When walking through wet woods I have almost stepped on woodcock without seeing or flushing them. To find them listen carefully for their “peent” or “beent” call while on the ground and the unusual musical twittering of their wings while in their high, corkscrewing, mating display flight that goes on until well after dark. A flashlight can be used to see their eyeshine when on the ground. They probe the wet ground with their long bill with a flexible tip in search of earthworms. They generally feed until daybreak. Scolopax is Greek for “woodcock”. Their former name, Philohela, is Greek for “bog loving”. Their species name “minor” refers to it being smaller than it’s Eurasian counterpart, S. rusticola or the European Woodcock.

American Woodcock and Wilson’s Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) are the only members of the Sandpiper family that are legally hunted in North America. The woodcock is identified by it’s long bill, short legs and plump rounded body and rounded wings. It’s back is mostly grayish and the belly is a buffy orange. There are three horizontal black bars on the crown. The large eyes are set extremely far back on it’s large head which allows it to vigilantly look for danger while feeding.

Next week I’ll be out one evening listening and looking for American Woodcock. I may just see you out and about.

Mike

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