By Keith Michael

It’s the one-year anniversary of Millie’s sudden departure from the West Village. For those of you who might be novices to my articles, Millie was my corgi confidant-in-birding since 2012, a grumpy sidekick through more than 100 of my WestView avian ramblings. Irascible was my favorite adjective conjured to soften the edges of her euphemistic “issues.” To honor her, somewhat subversively, this month I’m featuring a bird Millie would never have allowed me to champion during her tenure: the American Woodcock. Writing with Millie nipping, uh, napping by my side, one of my tropes was the journalistic creation that any reference to cuteness other than to herself was intolerable. Frankly, this was an idealization of her lack of patience with anyone or anything that was not hers truly. The obvious reason that even a whisper about American Woodcocks was forbidden in Millie’s presence is that they exude a surfeit of cuteness.

AN AMERICAN WOODCOCK: Cuteness on parade. Photo by Keith Michael.

First of all, the Woodcock is referred to regionally by a litany of adorably twee names: Timberdoodle, Night Partridge, Bog Sucker, Labrador Twister, or Hokumpoke. Affectionate descriptive words include plump, rotund, portly, roly-poly, or even, dumpy. Of course, these are also words I might have silently mouthed to refer to Millie as she was frequently a girl of round proportions herself.

Trundling along on their foreshortened legs, corgis are known for the rearview gyrations of their bums. Likewise, Woodcocks rumba as they probe for earthworms in the mud. (Search YouTube and you’ll find cheerful renditions of their bebopping to a funky playlist.) It’s speculated that the evolutionary usefulness of this rhythmic teeter-totter is somehow tantamount to their success with locating worms at beak-length beneath the surface. Speaking of beak length, their extraordinarily long prehensile bills combined with danger-wary bug eyes on nearly opposite sides of their heads, and their leaf-litter camouflage give them the appearance of sci-fi aliens.

 Millie was known for her, ahem, vocalizing. Woodcocks, too, are celebrated for their spring mating ritual calls. At dusk, the males begin on the ground with a metallic peent note that accelerates—peent peent peent—until it launches them like from a slingshot high into the air. Accompanied by ethereal twittering, they zigzag against the night sky, then abruptly plummet back to the ground. Within a night, many are the encore performances of this charismatic display dance before the womenfolk declare, “You’re the one that I want!”Though I have never had the pleasure, I know friends have seen Woodcocks in the West Village, often unfortunately stunned on the sidewalk after window strikes during migration. A low-altitude flight plan and those side-facing eyes seem to make them particularly vulnerable to flying into things. Surprisingly, Bryant Park, a block from the hyper-activity of Times Square, is the unlikely predictable NYC location to see Woodcocks during the spring. One afternoon this March, there were six being seen bobbing around that very urban park. For some reason they seem unfazed by the incessant traffic footsteps away from their foraging under the bushes. Every time I walk through Abingdon Square I hope that one of these chunky charmers will have dropped by to poke around the edges. Shh, don’t tell Millie how cute they are.

Wait. Millie is no longer under foot to protest! So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it to the spring air, and stick your head out, and yell, “Woodcocks are CUTE as hell and I’m not gonna fake this anymore!” I DO think that Millie would be pleased by the commotion.

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