There has been a cool crispness to the air lately that, to me, indicates the approach of autumn. I've noticed even the smell of the woods has started to subtly change to the earthy aromas of fall. As the seasons change I, along with many other hunters, start to get ready for hunting season.
Bear and early goose season is already under way and small game and duck season is just around the corner. There is still time to sight in the rifle or get out and improve your shotgun skills by shooting at some clay pigeons.
Over the course of the last spring and summer there is one game bird that has got me curious. That bird is the American Woodcock. In the spring it was an odd flight display over the marsh that got my attention. The males fly high over their breeding grounds in an attempt to attract a mate in the spring.
It wasn't the flight that first got my attention, it was the sound. The air passing through their wings makes a distinct sound that I had heard over the years but was unable to place the source. I apologize that I cannot describe the sound in words but it's unique.
This spring I actually saw the bird in flight making the noise so I was able to identify it. They are rather small and hard to see during the late evening when they typically put on this performance. Later in the summer I noticed them again when I flushed one from my zucchini patch on more than one occasion.
The American Woodcock is a small migratory bird measuring approximately 11 inches in length. Woodcock are a member of the sandpiper family and also have a long prehensile bill. They have a mixed coloration of browns, tans and black that makes them perfectly camouflaged to their surroundings. Marshes, thickets and young forests with moist soil are where they spend the majority of time between nesting and feeding. The long bill is used to root through the soft earth for invertebrates such as earthworms for feed.
Woodcock migrate at night typically in small loose flocks. The migration south to their winter grounds typically starts in October and into early November as the ground they feed from begins to ice over.
The winter range for Woodcock is along the gulf and southeast Atlantic States. In the spring they begin their migration north to their breeding grounds starting in February but more likely arriving in our area around March-April.
The Woodcock season for 2013 in Michigan is from Sept. 21 through Nov. 4 and there is a bag limit of three per day. If you wish to hunt woodcock you must have a small game license. You must also have a Harvest Information Program endorsement. The HIP endorsement is free and required if you plan on hunting migratory birds such as ducks and geese but also includes woodcock. This endorsement can be asked for at the time you are purchasing your license. If you failed to do that, you can still visit the DNR website or a DNR service center to get this endorsement.