Peenting is what male woodcocks do when they attempt to attract a female for mating purposes. Emerging from the woods at dawn and dusk during late winter and early spring, male woodcocks locate a suitable stage, and peent their little hearts out. The peent is the raspberry-like sound they make. When they’re not on the ground peenting, they’re in the air performing a tornadic sky-dance during which they vocalize a twittering sound in combination with a wing-whistle. The whole routine lasts about 20 minutes before the male flies back to the cover of dark woods. Why does he do this? That’s simple. It’s to perpetuate his genes.
If his performance qualifies, he may be rewarded by a visit from a ready female. But only if he impresses her. When I watch the male woodcock perform, how many females are listening at the forest edges? What exactly are they listening for? Is it the gusto of a well-delivered peent? Listen to this performance I recorded early this morning:
Doesn’t that send shivers up your spine? Think what it might do to a female woodcock!
Here is a snippet of a sonogram of the male woodcock’s flight display and peenting, recorded at Lake Betz early this morning:
This graph is part of a longer 20-minute set that began at 6:27am this morning with the male woodcock flying overhead. His first peenting session (P1) was three minutes and 45 seconds long (3:45). P2 was 1:06; P3 was 0:47; P4 was 0:57; P5 was 1:04; P6 was 1:23 and P7 was 3:36.
Perhaps more interesting are the peenting rates of each of these sessions. During P1, the bird peents an average of 17 times per second. But during P2, his rate increases to 25 peents/second. This rate stays about the same through the P3, P4, P5, and P6 sessions. But the tired male winds down during its last session (P7) to about 20 peents/second.
I observed this same pattern on a different morning, the first session featuring a leisurely peent rate, speeding up during the middle sessions, and winding down again during the last session. These are frivolous observations unless we can glean some meaning from them. But will we ever get inside the mind of the female woodcock and discover what she is looking for in his peents and flight displays? Donald Kroodsma, in his book The Singing Life of Birds, remarks that “science is just organized curiosity.” If we ask enough questions, our curiosity may one day shed some light on the mystery of the male woodcock’s performance. One thing is for sure, his peenting and flight displays are no mystery to the discerning female who likes what she hears.
By the way, here’s my version of a poor man’s parabolic microphone: