American Woodcock. Order an enlargement of this image.
This evening, October 26, 2012, we enjoyed a most pleasant opportunity of sundowners on the swing on the back deck in a balmy temperature exceeding 22C (about 70F) as darkness approached.
"Cockshut time" is that final few minutes between twilight and dark when woodcock fly low to the ground, or soar over the poplar trees.
Theories abound, but none are proven.
The phenomenon is observed most often in spring, during the mating season when the birds exhibit their unique melodic mating dance performance - and again in autumn, when the length of daylight matches that of the spring mating period and the birds behave, once again, as in spring, as so many other birds do at that time, particularly owls and grouse.
In Europe, at one time, the birds were netted at this time, and various dictionaries erroneously applied the term cockshoot to the net itself, and claimed that the proper spelling was cockshut, believing that the word referred to something which shut in the birds.
From this came the phrases cockshut time or light, referring to evening twilight, or nightfall, when woodcock are likely to fly in the open. This alternate spelling is now more prevalent than the original, though usually occurring as in the previously-mentioned phrase, or as a surname, than as a reference to the original, obsolete hunting practice.