Photo Credit: Marlene Cashen & Weeks Bay Reserve Foundation
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Gallinago gallinago
OTHER NAMES: Wilson’s snipe.
DESCRIPTION: The common snipe belongs to a family of small to medium sized wading birds known as Scolopacidae, often referred to as shore birds. It is a close relative to the American woodcock. Snipe are about 10½ inches in length with brown plumage and black barring. Snipe and woodcock are similar in appearance but are easily distinguished from one another by the striping on their head. Striping on a snipe is from front to back while the woodcock is from side to side. The bill is about 2½ inches long and is used to probe into wet ground for food. When in flight, the snipe can be identified by its pointed wings and zigzag flight pattern. The voice of the common snipe is a rasping “scaip” note when it is flushed. They also sing “wheet-wheet” from perches during the breeding season.
DISTRIBUTION: The common snipe breeds throughout most of North America, Europe, and Asia, and many parts of South America and Africa. The common snipe in North America migrate south to Central America. In Europe they migrate to Britain and southwest Europe.
HABITAT: Common snipe reside in wet areas such as bogs, marshes, wet meadows, and in the swampy Artic tundra.
FEEDING HABITS: Snipe feed along the edges of rivers, lakes, marshes, and swamps. They use their long bill to probe into the soft ground. They feed primarily on worms, however, many insects, larvae, snails, woodlice, crayfish, mollusks, frogs, and seeds are also eaten. The tip of the snipe’s bill is very flexible and can be opened when buried in the ground. Some smaller food items can be eaten without the bill being removed from the ground.
LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY: Thecommon snipe has a courtship display called the drumming or beating flight that is displayed by both sexes but mostly the female. The bird flies to a considerable height before going into a rapid dive. The tail is spread and the wings are half-closed and beating softly. The drumming is caused from air hitting the very rigid tail feathers and is accompanied by a humming caused by the slow beating of the wings.
The common snipe nests on the ground in a shallow depression lined with grass. Sometimes a canopy will be woven over the nest. Breeding season begins in mid-April and continues through August. Common snipe usually lay four eggs that are olive green with dark blotches, but will sometimes lay only three. Incubation begins after the third or fourth egg is laid and is handled by the female only. Eggs are incubated for 18 – 20 days. The young are precocial, meaning they are covered in down and able to leave the nest shortly after hatching. Newly hatched snipe are fed by both parents until their down is dry at which time they leave the nest and begin to forage for themselves. The young can fly when they are 19 – 20 days old.
Baicich, Paul J. and Harrison, Colin J.O. 1997. A guide to the nests, eggs, and nestlings of North American birds. Academic Press, San Diego, CA.
Burton, Dr. Maurice and Robert. 1970. The International Wildlife Encyclopedia. Marshall Cavendish Corporation, New York, NY.
Stokes, Donald W. and Lillian Q. 1996. Stokes field guide to birds: eastern region. Little, Brown, and Company Limited, Canada.
AUTHOR: Kevin Holsonback, Wildlife Biologist, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, November 2006