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The Common Snipe, A Tiny Game Bird
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.
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.
- Strange Nighttime Sound - YouTube
Turn up speakers. Taken at about 9:00pm next to the stream behind the cabins at forestry camp. We are at about 9,000 above sea level in Roosevelt National Fo...
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.”
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.
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.
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.