A few weeks ago, I wrote about American woodcocks and their wonderful aerial courtship displays that you can hear, and hope to see, in the evenings. This display begins as soon as they arrive back in Maine, with most people going out to look for them starting in March. A few people have written in since then, including Susan Pierter of Portland, wondering how late into the season this can be observed. Thanks to the data we’ve collected over the last five years for the Maine Bird Atlas, I have a precise answer.

As a quick reminder, the Maine Bird Atlas is a project by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, with a goal of documenting the breeding (and wintering) distributions of Maine’s birds. Thanks to more than 3,000 volunteers submitting 125,000 checklists of birds they observed – from literally every corner of the state – we now have the best knowledge of where birds were breeding, and when. The “when” component is particularly interesting, and just recently, a group of us Bird Atlas staff members, as well as regional and species experts, spent two weeks going species by species to review all the data, especially the phenological distribution.

When it comes to American woodcocks, breaking down their breeding phenology is pretty straightforward because their aerial displays are so easy to detect. Those displays, for the Atlas, are coded as a “probable” breeding code, based on courtship behavior. There will still be a final proofing of data, but based on our preliminary results, the earliest courtship displays from woodcocks was on March 4. Across the state, especially in northern Maine, we had reports of courtship displays taking place well through July. There were not any chicks, or “recently fledged young” (to use Atlas lingo), after those late July dates, so aerial displays at that time are likely just overly ambitious males still on the dance floor after the ladies have called it a season.

American woodcocks are our earliest ground-nesting species, so those March displays make sense. They are also polygynous, and males give no parental care, so they can just keep displaying as long as they want to in the breeding season, while the females are off raising their young. At some point, the law of diminishing returns will kick in and males will realize their continued displays are not being answered, making it harder for us to detect them. That said, if you haven’t been out to see them yet, you’ve still got plenty of time. Pick a calm evening and go out, around sunset, to a large open field with woods on the edge and listen for the telltale call.


Since early April, a pair of domestic geese has taken up residence in Portland’s Back Cove, and while I usually try to stick to wild animals in this column, I’ve received a surprising number of inquiries about these birds over the past month. In the birder world, we label birds like this as “escapees.” They were, or maybe still are, owned birds that have “escaped” captivity and are now out associated with the natural landscape. This happens with geese and ducks, very frequently with birds used for training dogs (chukars and bobwhites), and we’ve even had black swans (a pet that will run you more than $1,200 to buy) show up around Portland before.

The primary concern from people asking about these is about their likelihood of surviving “in the wild.” While most domesticated animals earn that “domesticated” title because they are dependent on humans, most of these adult escapees will probably be fine on their own. Some of the released game birds don’t appear to survive Maine’s winter too well, but in the case of large geese that can move around to different locations to find food, they’ll probably be fine.

There is a group of domestic geese that have been roaming around Casco Bay for years now, primarily seen on Peaks Island but often making its way into Portland Harbor. These geese often get reported to us as rare birds, because the group includes two all-white birds, and one gray bird with white at the base of the bill, superficially looking like snow geese and greater white-fronted geese, respectively. Those birds have been reported since at least 2016, and perhaps the Back Cove birds are from there. If anyone knows about the source of these birds I’d love to learn more, so please email ask@maineaudubon.org.

Do you have a nature question for Doug? Email questions to ask@maineaudubon.org and visit maineaudubon.org to learn more about birding, native plants, and programs and events focusing on Maine wildlife and habitat. Doug and other naturalists lead free bird walks on Thursday mornings, 7 to 9 a.m., at the Gilsland Farm Audubon Sanctuary in Falmouth.

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