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The Common Snipe, A Tiny Game Bird

Updated on November 3, 2012
Common Snipe
Common Snipe | Source

Who Am I?

The most prominent characteristic of this wonderful little freshwater bird, is its three inch thin bill, which has a flexible upper mandible. It also has buff, black, and white longitudinal stripes on its head and tends to stand out from your normal shore birds, due to its movement between shore and the water. It uses its long, straight bill to feed, much like a pair of forceps in the water, constantly probing. It usually feeds in soft mud marshes, coastal areas, swamps, and in the vicinity of rivers and lakes. It plunges its bill into the earth up to its eyes, and probes about six times a minute, a very active feeder.

Notice the "hinged" bill
Notice the "hinged" bill | Source

Common Snipes and Migration

This bird was once known as Wilson’s Snipe, located throughout North America. They travel many thousands of miles in migration every year. If it should happen to winter in South America and nest in Alaska, the round trip is well over 10,000 miles, perhaps more. Spring migration usually begins around the start of March. Many of them are on their northern breeding grounds by mid-May and leave in September.

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Breeding and Courtship

During breeding season, this snipe gives a loud whistle of “wheat-wheat-wheat.” It also is fond of “wuck-wuck-wuck,” which tends to be much lower in tonal quality. While flying low over the ground, it will give “yuk-yuk-yuk,” or “yak-yak-yak.” With each of the calls, the bird’s wings and body will twitch.

To attract the female, the male flies up to 500 or 600 feet, then makes a large circle with a series of swoops and climbs. He slowly flaps his wings, then partially closes them, plummeting into a dive. The widely fanned tail feathers vibrate as the air rushes through, producing a churring, winnowing noise. When the male goes back up in the air to his original height, the wings produce a pulsating who-who-who-who. Then he will give the “wheat” or “wuck” calls.

Shockingly, the bird dives toward earth like a bomber, and at the last moment, he rights himself with his wings high over his back, and appears to alight on land. However, his feet will not touch ground. He returns to the air, and again just short of landing, appears to give a ballet leap. Then the female gives her sound of approval, “okee-okee-okee.”

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Habits

The Common Snipe is an excellent swimmer and diver, although it rarely does so. It sometimes happens that they have become mortally wounded and dived underwater, grabbing at a piece of vegetation to serve to anchor it, and then dying like that. The snipe is generally a night flier when it travels.

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Nesting and Young

Nests are usually built in a tangle of grass, very hard to locate, and often surrounded by deep water. Grass is often added to roof the nest over and provide additional camouflage. The eggs are incubated by both parents, and in about 20 days the blotched and spotted little ones emerge from their eggs. The young feed on anything small that is mobile or shiny. Bright objects resemble beetle shells, which naturally attract all precocious chicks. Generally, within eight days, the young ones can make short flights from a few feet to a few yards. In two weeks, they are strong fliers.

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Snipe Facts

Most of the snipe’s food is animal matter, grasshoppers, mosquito larvae, snails, earthworms, aquatic beetles, crustaceans, locusts and dragonfly nymphs.

Usually only the falcons and faster hawks can capture a snipe. Eggs are taken by the raccoon, crow, and raven. Gulls and jaegars eat the young, but as you can see, predation isn’t much of a problem.

The Common Snipe is a game bird, but to be honest, it is so small that it takes many of them to provide ample tablefare.

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    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      They are pretty cute, Brenda. Have you thought about another bird?

    • Hyphenbird profile image

      Brenda Barnes 4 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

      They are so cute and seem to have so much personality. Oh I love the photos of these little guys. It makes me miss my dear Hyphen so much although he looked nothing like these snipes.

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      These are all wading birds, Meldz. Thanks for enjoying it!

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      There are so many interesting birds out there, and I enjoy feeding them, too. It matters not if they are common, for they are all Children of God.

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Any time, Eddy. Birds are such a passion of mine, and one day, I hope to travel a little to see a lot more.

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Funom Makama 3, thanks for all your votes. I'm pleased that you enjoyed reading about this little bird. I am missing it already, as it wasn't around very long.

    • profile image

      ignugent17 4 years ago

      Thanks for sharing the information about the snipe. I wonder what kind of bird is this.

      Voted up and interesting. :-)

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 4 years ago from America

      Love the photos. Enjoyed reading about the common snipe. We love bird watching in this house. Voted Up.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

      Oh I love this ione again We have a bird feeder out the back and it is always full of birds and I also love learning about ones which I haven't heard of. Thank you for this wonderful share.

      Eddy.

    • Funom Makama 3 profile image

      Funom Theophilus Makama 4 years ago from Europe

      This is such a lovely hub. Thanks for the share and definitely voted up.

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks so much, Peggy. It is a great little bird.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

      This was very interesting reading about the common snipe and you got some great photos. Up votes on this hub.

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Lots of birds will travel long distances, shiningirisheyes. Many are lost in the migrations, as it is a very stressful and long trip.

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Yes, some of them can be a bit hard to ID specifically. The best way is to photograph them from all angles, if you can, then look them up in a field guide.

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Marites, I am VERY lucky to have all these birds around me. I'm glad that you are enjoying these stories and photos, for I am having a great time taking the pics and writing the stories.

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Billy, there are lots of snipes, dowitchers, sandpipers. You will surely run into a few of them here and there.

    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 4 years ago from Upstate, New York

      This little guy must put on quite an air show! I wonder how they are capable of traveling such distances...10,000 miles is unbelievable.

    • Nettlemere profile image

      Nettlemere 4 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      I like to see little wading birds like this although I struggle to identify the different species. Good info here.

    • coffeegginmyrice profile image

      Marites Mabugat-Simbajon 4 years ago from Toronto, Ontario

      aviannovice, there are lots of bird of different types around where you live? How nice it is you got your own photos of 'em!

      I am laughing at this courtship thing of the Common Snipe. And just like the Air Show (jets and planes) I've watched, I could picture how you described this bird like a bomber and like a ballet artist as well.

      The wooing of the male and the naive approval "okee-okee" of the female, man, that's soooo funny! Sure, the female puts up all her 6 talons up (not just two) and drops to the ground mesmerized by her wooing admirer.

      Useful, funny, awesome, beautiful and interesting hub, aviannovice! I can only give you a 2 thumbs up, unlike the lady Snipe. Thank you for sharing this tiny game bird Facts.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Okay, I have a confession to make....are you ready? I always thought it was a joke when someone said they were going on a snipe hunt. I didn't even think this bird existed. Seriously! It was always said in movies like it was a joke....there really is a snipe? Well I can die now; I have finally received the missing link. :)

      Great job Deb! I am grateful!

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Martin! These are pretty interesting birds that I have met and enjoyed. Hope you get to see them, too.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you for sharing this wonder, fact filled hub.

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