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Wilson’s Snipe

A medium-sized wading bird species with a mottled brown plumage, a long, straight bill, and a preference for wetland habitats across much of North America, and it is known for its distinctive winnowing display flight during breeding season.

Usually staying hidden in dense marsh grasses and sedges, the Wilson’s Snipe can be difficult to observe or study. Flushed birds fly in a recognizable zig-zag pattern before dropping back down into cover. Occurring over most of North America during at least part of the year, the Wilson’s Snipe migrates at night when the moon is evident.

Wilson’s Snipe can fly at over sixty miles per hour, and migrating males usually arrive on the breeding grounds a couple of weeks before the females arrive. A typical lifespan for a snipe is one or two years, although the oldest known wild snipe was twelve years of age.

Description of the Wilson’s Snipe


The Wilson’s Snipe is a chunky, short-necked shorebird with yellowish legs, a very long, straight bill, barred flanks, and mostly dark upperparts with bold, buffy stripes. Length: 10 in.  Wingspan: 18 in.


Sexes similar.

Seasonal change in appearance



Immatures resemble adults.


Wilson’s Snipe inhabit marshes, wet meadows, riverbanks, and flooded fields.


Wilson’s Snipe primarily eat insects and earthworms.


Wilson’s Snipe forage by probing moist soil with their long, sensitive-tipped bill.


Wilson’s Snipe breed from Alaska south to the northern U.S. states, and winter across much of the U.S., as well as points south. The population is not well measured, but probably stable.

More information:

Bent Life History

Visit the Bent Life History for extensive additional information on the Wilson’s Snipe.

Wing Shape

The shape of a bird’s wing is often an indication of its habits and behavior. Fast flying birds have long, pointed wings. Soaring birds have long, broad wings. Different songbirds will have a slightly different wing shape. Some species look so much alike (Empidonax flycatchers) that scientists sometimes use the length of specific feathers to confirm a species’ identification.

– Female, top of wing – May

– Underside of same wing

Wing images from the University of Puget Sound, Slater Museum of Natural History

Fun Facts

Males perform a display known as winnowing, in which they fly upwards in a circling pattern, and making shallow dives during which the vibration of air through the outer tail feathers makes an unusual whistle.

Formerly considered conspecific with the Common Snipe of Eurasia, the North American race is now considered a separate species, the Wilson’s Snipe.


The typical call is a harsh “kresh.”

Similar Species

  • American Woodcock
    Woodcocks are also very stocky, but have mostly unmarked, orange-buff underparts.


The Wilson’s Snipe’s nest is a shallow depression filled with leaves and grasses and well hidden within vegetation.

Number: Usually lay 4 eggs.
Color: Brown with darker markings.

Incubation and fledging:
The young hatch at about 18-21 days and leave the nest soon after hatching, but cannot fly for about 3 weeks.  Broods are sometimes split between the male and female for care.

Bent Life History of the Wilson’s Snipe


The above species, with its several varieties, enjoys a world-wide distribution and is universally well known. The American sub. species is widely distributed from coast to coast and occurs more or less commonly, at one season or another, in nearly every part of North America. It was formerly exceedingly abundant, but its numbers have been sadly depleted during the past 50 years by excessive shooting. Alexander Wilson first called attention to the characters, size, and number of tail feathers, which distinguished our bird from the European. But they are so much alike that it seems best to regard them as subspecies, rather than as distinct species.Spring: The snipe is an early migrant, leaving its winter quarters just below the frost line, just as soon as the northern frost goes out of the ground, about as early as the woodcock. When the warm spring rains have softened the meadows, when the hylas have thawed out and are peeping in the pond holes, when the cheerful okalee of the redwings is heard in the marshes and when the herring are running up the streams to spawn, then we need not look in vain for the coming of the snipe. Low, moist meadow lands, or wet pastures frequented by cattle, are favorite haunts, where their splashings and borings are frequently seen among the cow tracks. They are also found in high, bushy, wet pastures, or in the vicinity of springfed brooks among scattered clumps of willows, huckleberries or alders.Courtship: On the wings of the south wind comes the first wisp of snipe, the will-a-the-wisp of the marshes, here to-day and gone tomorrow, coming and going under the cover of darkness. All through the spring migration and all through the nesting season we may hear the weird winnowing sound of the snipe’s courtship flight, a tremulous humming sound, loud and penetrating, audible at a long distance. One is both thrilled and puzzled when he hears it for the first time, for it seems like a disembodied sound, the sighing of some wandering spirit, until the author is discovered, a mere speck, sweeping across the sky. The sound resembles the noise made by a duck’s wings in rapid flight, a rapidly pulsating series of notes, who, who, who, who, who, who, who, who, increasing and then decreasing again in intensity. It has been termed the “bleating” of the snipe, but this does not seem to describe it so well as “winnowing.” J. R. Whitaker, with whom I hunted snipe in Newfoundland, told me that both sexes indulge in this performance and George M. Sutton (1923) suggested the possibility of it.Dr. Joseph Grinnell (1900) gives the best account of this courtship flight, as follows:

I was in a broad grassy swab, studded here and there with scrub spruces and bordered by taller timber, when my attention was attracted by a curious far-off song which puzzled me for some time. Finally I descried the producer, a Wilson’s snipe, so far overhead as to be scarcely discernible against the clear sky. It was flying slowly in a broad circle with a diameter of perhaps 600 yards, so that the direction of the sound was ever shifting, thus confusing me until I caught sight of Its author. This lofty flight was not continuously on the same level, but consisted of a series of lengthy undulations or swoops. At the end of each swoop the bird would mount up to its former level. The drop at the beginning of the downward dive was with partly closed, quivering wings, but the succeeding rise was accomplished by a succession of rapid wing beats. The peculiar resonant song was a rolling series of syllables uttered during the downward swoop, and just before this drop merged Into the following rise a rumbling and whirring sound became audible, accompanying the latter part of the song and finishing It. This curious song flight was kept up for 15 minutes, ending with a downward dash. But before the bird reached the ground and was yet some 20 yards above it there was apparently a complete collapse. The bird dropped as if shot for several feet, but abruptly recovered itself to fly a short distance farther and repeat this new maneuver. By a succession of these collapses, falls, recoveries, and short flights the acrobatically inclined bird finally reached the ground, alighting in the grass near me.

All of the early American writers, and many others since then, supposed that the winnowing sound was made by the bird’s wings, although many European observers long ago argued that it was made by the two pairs of outer tail feathers, which are widely spread and held downward at right angles to the axis of the body during the downward swoops and vibrate as the air rushes through them. W. L. Dawson (1923) says that: the body of the sound is produced by the impact of the air upon the sharp lateral feathers of the tail, held stiffly, while the pulsations of sound are produced by the wings. At least it is certain that the pulsations of sound are synchronous with the wing heats. The sound begins gradually, as while the tail is expanding, and closes with a smooth diminuendo as the tail is dosing and while the wings are sailing.

N. S. Goss (1891) gives a different account of the courtship, a~ follows:

In courtship, the male struts with drooping wings and widespread tail around his mate, in a most captivating manner, often at such times rising spirallike with quickly beating wings high In air, dropping back In a wavy graceful circle, uttering at the same tune his jarring cackling love note, which, with the vibration of the wings upon the air, makes a rather pleasing sound.

Mr. Sutton (1923) noted some peculiar flight performances, which may be connected with the courtship; he says:

On April 29 two birds were repeatedly flushed together; not always the same two individuals necessarily, I presume, and not certainly of opposite sex. But these birds often sailed gracefully over the cattalls, In wide sweeping undulations, with wings set in a manner suggesting chimney swlfts, a type of flight totally different from any previously observed. The same stunt was many times observed in the male bird of the pair whose nest was located. In fact this type of display, if it were display, was so common that the usual twitching, erratic flight was only rarely seen. I have wondered If this may not have been a pair of birds, possibly recently mated, though not actually nesting there.

On May 8, In a portion of the swamp near town, a new antic was observed. A snipe, subsequently determined as a male, sprang up close at hand, and after a few energetic, direct wing heats, put his wings high above his body and, describing a graceful arc, dropped toward the ground, his legs trailing, only to rise again to repeat the performance. Never during this exhibition did he actually touch the ground with his feet, so far as I could see, but it gave that impression. He was clearly excited, and I now know that such antics are a certain indication of nesting activity. At such times the male gave forth several short notes which may accurately he termed ‘bleats.’ Occasionally the bird, after performing this novel antic would drop to the grass some distance away, and then fly up after a time, considerably nearer me, making it evident that he was attempting to lure me away. Then again, after trying these antics for a time, he would suddenly mount to the sky, and there would follow a season of the weird wind music: always delightful.

Aretas A. Saunders, in his notes, says that: After tne eggs are laid the female often answers this sound with a long call okec okee okee repented 8 or 10 times and resembling the “buckwheat” call of the guinea hen. I believe the female is sitting on the eggs when she calls this way, for I have found the nest by locating the position of the sound at night and returning In the morning. The nest is usually in about the center of the male’s circle of flight.

Nesting: As with the woodcock my personal experience with the nesting of the Wilson snipe has been limited to one nest, found in the Magdalen Islands on June 18, 1904. The nest was found by watching the bird go to it in the East Point marshes. It was on dry ground in a little clump of grass, under some low and rather open bayberry bushes, on the edge of a boggy arm of the marsh, which extended up into the woods; it was built up about 2 inches above the ground and was made of short, dead straws and dead bayberry leaves; it measured 6 inches in outside and 3 inches in inside diameter. The four eggs which it contained blended perfectly with their surroundings and although in plain sight, they were not easily seen. P. B. Philipp (1925), who has found many snipe’s nests in the Magdalen Islands, where he says the species is increasing, writes:

The nesting begins in the last 10 days of May, and is a simple affair. Usually wet marshy ground is selected, preferably with low brush and grass with lumps or tussocks rising above the bog water. The nest is a shallow hollow made in the grass or moss of one of these lumps, lined with broken hits of dead grass and sometimes with dead leaves.

William L. Kells (1906) gives a graphic account of finding a nest of the Wilson snipe in southern Ontario, as follows:

On the 17th of May, 1905, as I was passing through a patch of low ground overgrown with second growth willows, a rather large-sized bird flushed from a spot a few feet from where I had jumped over a neck of water. I did not see the exact place from which the bird had flown, but the fluttering sound of her wing caught my ear, and looking ahead I saw the creature, who with outspread tail and wings, was fluttering on the damp earth, and with her long bill down in the mud, was giving vent to a series of squeaking sounds. I knew at once that this hird had flushed from a nest, and that the object of her actions was to draw my attention from something that she was very desirous to conceal; but a littie research revealed a nest containing four beautiful eggs. A clump of willows a little elevated stood about 6 feet from the pool over which the bird had flown, and midway between the water and the willows, which overhung it the nest was placed. This was simply a slight depression made by the bird in the moss and dry grass, and except from its concealed situation and being a little more expanded, there was no particular distinction between it and those of the more familiar killdeer plover and spotted sandpiper, though the lining was probably of a warmer texture, being of fine dry grass, while the eggs, as in the case of all the ground nesting waders, were arranged with the small ends inward.

A Colorado nest is thus described by Robert B. Rockwell (1912):

This nest was located on (and above) the surface of slightly damp ground at the edre of a good-sized area of very soft, bogey land formed by the seepage under the dyke of the Big Barr Lake. It was built in the center of a tussock of grass about 8 inches in length and was a very neat, well-shaped, and cupped nest composed entirely of fine dry grass. In construction it was far superior to any shore bird’s nest I have ever seen, being so compactly and strongly put together that it was possible to remove it from the nesting site without injury. In general appearance the nest itself is not unlike certain sparrows’ nests.

A nest photographed for me by F. Seymour Ilersey, near the mouth of the Yukon River, Alaska, was in a very wet spot on the border of a marsh; it was a deep hollow prettily arched over with dry grasses at the base of a small willow bush.

The Wilson snipe is often a close sitter and sometimes will not leave the nest until nearly trodden upon. W. J. Brown (1912) tells of a case where he stroked the bird on the back and had to lift her off the nest to photograph the eggs.

Mr. Sutton (1923) has published a full and very interesting account of the breeding habits of the Wilson snipe in Crawford County, Pennsylvania, where he found several nests in a large, wet swamp among cat-tails and grasses; of the first nest he says:

The nest was beautifully situated in the center of a clump of dried fern stalks: a clump similar to hundreds of just such little islands near at hand but certainly admirably suited to such a nesting site, for the eggs were almost completely surrounded at the short distance of 4 inches by a paling of dead fern stalks. The eggs were about 9 inches above water at this time, although the ivater’s depth changed constantly with every rainfall, and five days later the outer rim of the nest was only 2 inches above water level. Another was built upon a bit of decayed, sunken log and was composed entirely of grass stems rather carefully laid together. The eggs were hut a few Inches above the surface of the water, and although grass stems connected the nesting site with other vegetation the nest was virtually on an island surrounded by water 18 inches deep.

And of still another he says:

This nest was the only snipe nest I have seen which had any real protection from above. The nest was so placed under a dead willow branch and some leaning cat-tail stalks that it was really difficult to see it. The grasses composing the nest had been placed with care and were somewhat woven about the cat-tail stalks and other grasses standing near.

Eggs: Four eggs is the normal number laid by the snipe; rarely five eggs are laid. They are about ovate pyriform in shape and slightly glossy. The ground colors vary from “buckthorn brown” or “Isabella color ” in the darkest types to ” deep olive buff ” or “dark olive buff” in the lighter types, which are much commoner.

As a rule the eggs are boldly spotted and blotched, chiefly about the larger end; but often they are spotted more or less evenly over the entire surface. The markings are in dark shades of brown, “burnt umber,” “bister,” or “bone brown.” Often there are splashes or scrawls of brownish black, or black, at the larger end. “Snuff brown,” “vinaceous ~ or “brownish drab” under spots or blotches often occur. The measurements of 57 eggs average 38.6 by 28.1 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 42.4 by 29.5, 36.1 by 29.9, and 37.5 by 25.5 millimeters.

Young: The period of incubation is from 18 to 20 days, and it is shared by both sexes. Mr. Philipp (1925) says that three birds taken from the nest were all males. The young leave the nest soon after they are hatched, and wander about in the long grass, where their concealing coloration makes them very hard to find. One day, while watching snipe with J. R. Whitaker on a large marsh near the mouth of Sandy River in Newfoundland, I saw a snipe several times go down into the grass at a certain place. Thinking to find a nest there I made a careful search, and finally found one small downy young; but not another one could I find in a long hunt. This moist meadow full of grassy hummocks is a great breeding place for snipe. Here we frequently saw snipe sitting in trees, bushes, or on telegraph poles, uttering their loud icep icep kep notes of protest. On the girders of a steel bridge that spans the river at this point Mr. Whitaker has seen as many as five snipe perched at one time.

Mr. Sutton (1923) describes the behavior of an anxious mother as follows:

The mother’s antics so claimed my attention that I did not keep close enough watch of the young, and eventually was unable to find them. I hesitated to tramp about much at the time for fear of stepping upon them. The mother bird grunted and clucked incessantly and fell upon her side uttering weird cries, and beating her wings pitiably. At times she would dart into the air end circle about in great haste, very close to me and alight in the tall grass, wheace she would run gracefully away until she was again plainly In view. As she ran about her head was held rather stiffly, and it seemed that moving It from side to side much caused her inconvenience. In fact once or twice n definite hnpression was given that she was carrying something in her mouth, her head was held at such a strained angle.

Plumages: The young snipe in its dark and richly-colored natal down is one of the handsomest of the young waders. The upper parts, including the crown, back, wings, and thighs, are variegated or marbled with velvetty black, “bay,” “chestnut,” and “amber brown”; the down is mainly black at the base and brown-tipped; the entire upper parts are spotted with small round white spots at the tips of some of the down filaments, producing a beautiful effect of color contrasts and a surprisingly protective coloration. The head is distinctively marked with a white spot on the forehead, a black crescent above it and a black triangle below it, partially concealed by brown tips; there is a distinct black loral stripe, extending faintly beyond the eye, and a less distinct black malar stripe; between these two is a conspicuous, large, white, cheek patch. The chin and upper throat are “light ochraceous buff”; below this on the lower throat is a large sooty-black area, partially concealed by brown tips, these tawny” brown tips predominating on the breast and flanks, and shading off to “pale pinkish cinnamon” on the belly.

The juvenal plumage appears first on the back and scapulars, then on the breast and wing coverts. A bird in my collection, about half grown has the above parts well feathered and the remiges onethird grown; but the head and rump are still downy and the rectrices have not yet started. The juvenal plumage is like the adult, except that the buff edgings of the feathers on the sides of the back and the scapulars, forming the stripes, are narrower and paler, sometimes almost white on the outer webs. The body feathers and some of the scapulars and tertials are molted during the fall, making the young bird almost indistinguishable from the adult.

Both young birds and adults have a partial prenuptial molt in the late winter and early spring, involving the contour feathers, wing coverts, tertials, and the tail. Adults have a complete molt between July and October. The spring and fall plumages are alike except that the fresh fall plumage is somewhat more richly colored.

Food: The feeding habits of the Wilson snipe are much like those of the woodcock, except that it often feeds in much wetter places and is somewhat less nocturnal. Benjamin T. Gault (1902) discovered by observation that snipe occasionally resort to open mud flats, unmindful of the cover of darkness and that they feed at all hours of the day. He describes their method of feeding as follows:

The snipe seemed to select as special feeding grounds the water line just bordering the flats, where the mud was soft and into which they delighted in sinking their bills to the fullest depth. And in withdrawing them they never elevated their necks in true sandpiper style. On the contrary they kept their heads well “chucked down,” so to speak, and in moving about from place to place, which they seldom did, however, continue to hold them in the same fashion.

In some respect their probing methods resembled the rooting of swine: a simple, up and down forward movement, and If remembered rightly, without lateral twists or side thrusts of any kind, and at times exposing fully one-half of the bill.

Whether the Wilson snipe actually do resort to the so-called “suction” method of procuring their food is a question still undetermined in my mind. The glasses however brought out the important Information that the probing or feeling movements of the bill were accompanied every now and then with a guttural or swallowing motion of the throat, which at tinies developed into a decided gulp, as though large norsels of some kind were being taken down, and this without the removal of the bill from the mack.

Henry W. Henshaw (1875) describes an entirely different method of feeding; he says:

In migrating, however, especially in Arizona and New Mexico, did it depend wholly upon its usual methods of obtaining sustenance, it would fare badly, since, in some sections, there is a total lack of meadow and marsh, and then It may be seen in broad midday running along the sandy borders of the streams, and picking up from omong the pebbles and ~Mbris any tidbits In the shape of Insects It can find. It retains, however, even under these adverse conditions, Its habit of squatting, and, when approached closely I have seen it lower its body close to the ground, shrink as it were into as little space as possible, and so remain till I was within a few feet, when it would get up with its well known scaip, scatp, and, following the turns and sinuosities of the streams, endeavor to find some little covered nook into which it could drop out of sight.

M. P. Skinner watched a snipe feeding on the muddy shore of a pond in the Yellowstone Valley; he says in his notes:

He was about 6 inches from shore and at each stroke his bill went in up to his eyes. The strokes were rapid like those of a woodpecker. He covered o space perhaps 4 inches wide and 15 feet long in an hour, getting something every half dozen strokes or so. He was very busy there for two hours at least.

Earthworms probably constitute the principle food of the Wilson snipe, but it also eats cutworms, ïw ireworms, leaches, grasshoppers, locusts, beetles. mosquitoes, other insects and their 1arv~e, and some seeds of marsh plants.

Behavior: Snipe are notorious for their erratic flight and they often, probably usually, do dodge and zigzag when they first flush in alarm, but not always; I have seen them fly away as steadily as any other shore bird. Snipe usually lie closely crouched on the ground trusting to their excellent protective coloration, and do not flush until nearly trodden upon; so that in their hurry to get away their flight is erratic. When well under way their flight is steady and swift with the occasional turnings common to all shore birds. When first flushed they generally fly low, but when flying from one part of a marsh to another, or when migrating, they fly very high. When alighting they pitch down suddenly from a great height and then flutter down slowly into the grass or drop straight down with wings elevated and bill pointing upwards. They are less gregarious than other waders; they usually flush singly, but often within a few yards of each other if plentiful. They are seldom seen in flocks. John T. Nichols tells me in his notes of a flock of seven which he saw on Long Island:

They were flying high from the east to west, the regn!ar southward lane for shore birds, and bunched up like do~vitchers or yellowlegs as they circled over the marsh, then slanted down obliquely (as these other birds would have done) to alight on a piece of dead stubble, fly the time I reached them they had scattered somewhat; four (scattered) and three (bunched) flushed from this spot in close succession, and went off into the southwest. The migration of the snipe may he mostly by night; It certainly dies to some extent along the coast by day.

And Harry S. Swarth (1922) says:

While the usual manner of occurrence was for a single bird to be flushed, or perhaps two or three within a few square yards, there were times when snipe were noted in small flocks, almost like sandpipers in their actions. Groups of 10 or 12 individuals were seen circling about through the air in close formation and wheeling or turning in perfoct unison. At such times almost the only thing to betray the identity of the birds was the call note, uttered at frequent intervals. At no time, however, did birds flushed from the ground depart in flock formation.

On the ground the snipe moves about deliberately with bill pointing downwards. If alarmed it squats for concealment before jumping into flight when hard pressed; the longitudinal stripes on its back and head so closely resemble prostrate stems of dead grass that the bird is difficult to distinguish. Mr. Skinner “saw one alight and run rapidly along the ground for 20 feet, erect with head high, like a running bob white.” C. J. Pennock watched one standing on a bare mud flat with “a continued up and down rythmic movement of the entire body.” E. H. Forbush (1925) writes:

The snipe can swim and dive and uses both wings and feet under water in its efforts to escape. Mr. lviii H. Parsons writes that he shot one that fell into a little clear streamlet where later he found it dead, under water, grasping a rootlet in its bill. Later, on the Scioto River, as he relates, he shot another whch fell into the river, and, turning, swam back toward the shore. On seeing him approach it dived, and he saw it grasp a weed with its bill. Wading in he secured Ihe bird “stone dead.”

Voice: Eliminating the winnowing flight notes, which are unquestionably instrumental, the Wilson snipe has a variety of vocal notes. The one most often heard is the familiar scaipe note, a note of alarm and warning, given as the bird rises in hurried flight. This note has been variotisly expressed in writing, perhaps best by the word “escape “, which the snipe often does, unless the sportsman is smart enough to say “no you don’t,” and prove it. On the breeding grounds we frequently bear its loud notes of protest, uttered while it is flying about or perched on some tree or post; these are in the form of a loud clear whistle, like wheat wheat wheat wheat or more subdued in tone like wltuck whuck whuek whuck; they are always rapidly uttered and usually consist of four or five notes. E. ‘XV. Nelson (1887) refers to a similar note heard on the breeding grounds, as yale yak yak yak in quick, energetic, explosive syllables. At the time when the bird is uttering its note, it flies along within a short distance of the ground with a peculiar jerky movement of the body and wings as every note is uttered.”

Mr. Nichols says in his notes:

When a bird gets up almost from underfoot, the scape is at times replaced by a series of short, hurried notes of similar character. It is interesting to find in the Wilson’s snipe this imperfect differentiation of a note uttered at the moment of taking wing from one uttered when in or approaching full flight: as it is a condition slightly different from the calls of other more social shore birds which trust comparatively little to concealment, take wing while danger is still at a distance with hurried minor notes, so soft as to readily escape notice, and have each a loud diagnostic flight call of much service in their identification.

The soaps of the snipe has sufficient resemblance to the woodcock’s peent, which forms a part of the nuptial performance of that species, to leave little doubt that the two are homologous (that is, of the same derivation)~ if we assume snipe and woodcock to be related. It is, however, more analogous (that is, of corresponding place or purpose) with the wing twitter of the woodcock. Its harsh quality is in keeping with the voices of unrelated denisoas of marsh and swamp, herons, rails, frogs, etc., and the discords of close-by bog sounds continually in its ears. The quality of the snipe’s call contrasts sharply with the peculiarly clear, mellow whistle of the black-breasted plover, for instance, and ringing calls of species of similar habit, with carrying power over the open distances of their haunts. The connecting series of limicoline voices, through the reedy calls of such marsh-loving birds as the pectoral sandpiper, leaves little doubt that there is a correlation between habitat and quality of voice.

In some notes from Alaska, he writes:

July 17, on the slope of a low, gentle, tundra hill a little way back from the shore, ahead of me a snipe fluttered up a short distance, then down; up, then down; nccompanying this performance with ciz.up chap eli-up eli-up chap oliew chew chew chew chew. It alighted in a comparatively open space with a couple of small bog holes of water, surrounded with a circle of scrub willows, and here I presently flushed it again. It rose with a chape note, more muffled and reedy than the ordinary Wilson snipe scope, and, curving downwind, rose higher, attaining considerable elevation in the distance, as I followed it with my glass. It now began to aigzag up and down, maintaining approximately its position in the sky to leeward. Meanwhile I heard an unfamiliar more or less whistled peep-er-weep once or twice, and an intermittent winnowing sound, toi8li. wish wish wish wish, etc. Being uncertain as to whether these sounds came from the distant snipe, or from some other bird closer at hand in the air, I took my glasses off the former to look about me, and as I feared I should do, lost track of it in the sky. Presently the winnowing ceased and I began to hear a continuous harsh cata.-cato,-cuta,-cuta from over the brow of the hill, which turned out to be a snipe, presumably the same one which had returned, standing on top of the only stake thereabouts.

Field marks: The Wilson snipe should be easily recognized by its long bill, its erratic flight, its conspicuous stripes, and the rufous near the end of its tail. The harsh scaipe note is diagnostic. It might be confused with the dowitcher, but the flight, notes, and usual haunts of the latter are different. I have often thought that the pectoral sandpiper resembles the snipe, as it rises from the grass, but it lacks the long bill, and is not so conspicuously striped on the back.

Fall: The fall migration of snipe is dependent on the weather, the first early frosts are apt to start them along; when the brilliant red leaves of the swamp maples add their touch of color to the marshes, and when the vegetation in the meadows begins to take on the rich hues of autumn, then we may look for the coming of the snipe. They are by no means confined to fresh-water marshes at this season. I have occasionally flushed a Wilson snipe on the salt marshes of Cape Cod, and have frequently found them on the dry grassy shores of islands in inland ponds.

Wells \V~. Cooke (1914) says:

They seem reluctant to return south in fall, even though they can have no appreciation of the constant persecution which awaits them during the sIx months’ sojourn in their winter home. A few migrants appear in the northern part of the United States in early September, and, moving slo~vly southward, reach the southern part of the Gulf States shortly aftcr the middle of October. Soon the main body of the birds follows, and all normally keep south of the line of frozen ground. Yet every winter some laggards remain much farther north, feeding about springs or streams. A few can usually he found on Cape Cod, Mass.. ‘vhile in the Rocky Mountains, near Sweetwater Lake, Colorado, the presence of warm springs has enabled snipe to remain throughout an entire winter, though the air temperature fell to 300 F. below zero.

Mr. Brewster (1906) writes:

During exceptionally wet autumns snipe occasionally resort in large numbers to the highly cultivated truck farms of Arlington and Belmont. An Interesting instance of this happened in September, 1875, when a flight, larger than any that I have known to occur in the Cambridge region befote or since, settled in some water-soaked fields covered with crops of corn, potatoes, cabbages, etc., on the Hhttinger farm, Belmont. Learning of the presence of these birds about a week after their arirval, I visited the place early the next morning, but all save 10 or a dozen of them had departed, owing no doubt, to the fact that there had been a hard frost during the preceding night. The borings and other signs which they had left convinced me, however, that the statement made to me at the time by Mr. Jacob Hittinger, to the effect that he had started four or five hun4red snipe there only the day before, was probably not an exaggeration of the truth.

Game: The Wilson snipe, improperly called “jack snipe,” but more properly called “English snipe,” is one of our most popular game birds. Probably more snipe have been killed by sportsmen than any other game bird. It ranks ahead of all other shore birds and upland game birds except, possibly, the woodcock, ruffed grouse, and quail. When the startling cry of the snipe arouses the sportsman to instant action he realizes that he is up against a real gamey proposition. lie must be a good shot indeed to make a creditable score against such quick erratic flyers. A tramp over the open meadows, brown, red, and golden in their autumn livery, with one or two good dogs quartering the ground in plain sight and with an occasional shot at a swiftly flying bird, is one of the delights of a crisp autumn day. The birds will lie closely on a calm day, but on a windy, blustering day they are restless and wild. lit is well to hunt down wind as the birds usually rise against the wind and will fly towards and then quartering away from the shooter. When two men hunt along a narrow marsh, the man on the windward side will get most of the shooting. Snipe are usually shot on wet meadows or marshes, but that they are often found in other places is shown by the following quotations from Dwight W. Huntington (1903):

Audubon says the snipe is never found in the woods, but Forester mentions finding It in wild, windy weather early in the season in the skirts of moist woodlands under sheltered lee sides of young plantations, among willow, alder, and brier brakes, and, In short, wherever there is good, soft, springy feeding ground perfectly sheltered and protected from the wind by trees and shrubbery.

Abbott says: “During the autumn I have found them along neglected meadow ditches overhung by large willow trees, and again hidden in the reeds along the banks of creeks. I have shot them repeatedly in wet woodland meadows. I have often found snipe in bushy tracts and among the swamp willows, but I have never seen them in the forest, and believe they so rarely resort to the woods that it would not be worth while to seek them there.’

Snipe must have been exceedingly abundant 50 or 60 years ago, as the oft-quoted achievements of James J. Pringle (1899) will illustrate. He was not a market hunter but a gentleman (‘?) sportsman, who shot for the fun of it and gave the birds away to his friends. His excuses for excessive slaughter and his apologies for not killing more are interesting; he writes:

The birds being such great migrants, and only in the country for a short time, I had no mercy on them and killed all I could, for a snipe once missed might never be seen again.

I shot with only one gun at a time; had no loader, but loaded my gun myself; had I shot with two guns and had a loader I. would, of course, have killed a great many more birds, but in those days and in those parts it was impossible to get a man that could be trusted to load.

During the 20 years from 1867 to 1887 he shot, on his favorite hunting grounds in Louisiana, 69,087 snipe and a total of 71,859 of all game birds; but his shooting fell off during the next 10 years for he increased his grand total of snipe to only 78,602 and of all game birds to only 82,101! His best day, undoubtedly a world’s record, was December 11, 1877, when he shot in six hours 366 snipe and 8 other birds. On his best seven consecutive shooting days, alternate days in December, 1877, he killed 1,943 snipe and 25 other birds. During the winter of 1874: 75 he killed 6,615 snipe. Captain Bogardus, the famous trap shot, killed, with the help of a friend, 340 snipe on one day in Illinois, and seldom got less than 150 on good days. With such excessive shooting all through the fall, winter, and spring, is it to be wondered at that the snipe have decreased in numbers? Win ter: As mentioned above snipe spend the winters in small numbers as far north as they can find unfrozen marshes and spring holes, but their main winter resorts are in the Southern States, the West Indies, and northern South America. They were formerly enormously abundant in the marshes and savannas of Florida and the other Gulf States, where they are still common in winter. C. J. Pennock tells me that they are still abundant all winter about St. Marks, Florida, his earliest and latest dates being September 12 and May 10. Arthur T. Wayne (1910) says that, in South Carolina, the snipe “are most abundant during the months of February and March, and at that time multitudes frequent the rice plantations, provided the water is not too deep over the land.” J. H. Bowles (1918) says that in Washington “cold weather does not seem to bother them much. On January 1, 1916, when all freshwater marshes were frozen over, large numbers of them gathered on the Tacoma Flats.” Mr. Skinner writes to me that in Yellowstone Park they are found in winter along creeks and rivers kept open by warm springs and on ground overflowed by warm water from the hot springs.

Aiken and Warren (1914) tell of the winter habits of the Wilson snipe, in El Paso County, Colorado, as follows:

Fountain Creek rarely freezes over entirely below Its exit from the mountains, and along its banks there are many places where water that runs through the sand comes to the surface and forms springy holes and marshy meadows which are warmer than surface water. These become the winter feeding grounds for the snipe and one or a pair often content themselves with a very small area of muck. nut at times of severe cold many of the smaller holes freeze and then the snipe concentrate at places where a larger flow of water keeps the holes open. On January 15, 1908, wIth 6 inches of snow on the ground and below zero weather Alken visited a small beaver pond on the Skinner ranch 6 miles south of Colorado Springs. A bit of marsh above the pond and a short stretch of ooze along the outlet below remained open, and In this small area of one-fourth of an acre were 25 to SO snipe. Some years ago a snipe was found running upon the ice when everything in the vicinity was frozen solid. A few snipe winter along banks of streams in the mountains.

That snipe know enough to protect themselves from storms may be Illustrated by narrating here one of Aiken’s experiences in Utah about 20 years ago. He was beating a snipe marsh near one edge of which extended a narrow arroyo or gully in which were some trees and bushes. The weather had been fair until without warning a heavy snow storm set in. At once snipe began to rise wildly from different parts of the marsh and one after another directed their flight toward the same point in the arroyo and dove between its banks. Upon investigation S or 10 snipe were found together in a little cave in the side of the arroyo that was partly hidden by bushes so that they were well protected from any storm. We conclude this was not the first time the snipe had resorted to this friendly shelter since they knew so well where to go.

Range: North America, Central America, the West Indies, and northern South America. Accidental in the Hawaiian Islands.

Breeding range: North to Alaska (Shumagin Islands, Bethel, St. Michael, Nome, Kowak River, Cape Smith, and Fort Yukon); Mackenzie (La Pierre House, Fort Anderson, Dease River, and Fort Smith) ; northeastern Manitoba (Fort Churchill); northern Ontario (Cape Henrietta Maria); Ungava (Fort George and Great Whale River); Labrador (Nain); and Newfoundland (Halls Bay, Grand Lake, and St. Johns). East to Labrador (Nain); Newfoundland (St. Johns) ; eastern Quebec (Magdalen Islands); Nova Scotia (Baddeck and Halifax); Maine (Calais and Waldo County); Massachusetts (Salem and Brookline) ; Connecticut (Portland); New York (Croton Falls); New Jersey (Newfoundland, Norristown, Trenton); and southeastern Pennsylvania (Mill Grove). South to southeastern Pennsylvania (Mill Grove) ; northwestern Pennsylvania (Meadville); northern Ohio (Fremont); northern Indiana (Miami, Eng~ lish Lake, and Cedar Lake); northern Illinois (Hinsdale and Winnebago); Iowa (Sabula, Grinnell, and Boone); Colorado (Estes Park, Barr, San Luis Lake, and Silverton); Utah (Parleys Park and Fairfield); southwestern Idaho (Nampa); and northern California (Sierra Valley and Shasta Valley). West to northern California (Shasta Valley) ; Oregon (Fort Klamath, Corvallis, and Salem); Washington (Yakima and Olympia); British Columbia (Chilliwack, Vancouver, and Metlakatla); and Alaska (Sitka, Kodiak, Nushagak, and Shumagin Islands).

Wilson’s snipe also have been detected in summer north to Chimo, Ungava, Hopedale, Labrador, and Sandwich Bay, Quebec, and have been found lingering (probably non-breeders) south to Chloride, New Mexico, and Corpus Christi and San Angelo, Texas, while there ]5 one breeding record for northern Los Angeles County, California (Mailliard, 1914).

Winter range: The Wilson snipe winters regularly north to Washington (Tacoma) ; British Columbia (Chilliwack and Okanagan Landing); Wyoming (Yellowstone Park); Colorado (El Paso County) ; southern Arizona (Tucson and Fort Huachuca) southern New Mexico (Rio Mimbres) ; Texas (Austin, Kerrville, and Bonham) ; Oklahoma (Caddo) ; Arkansas (Fayetteville and Stuttgart); Alabama (Coosada and Montgomery County); central North Carolina (Raleigh); and southeastern Virginia (Virginia Beach) ; eastern North Carolina (Pea Islands) ; Bermuda; South Carolina (Charleston); Georgia (Savannah and Blackbeard Island); Florida (Canaveral, Orlando, Kissimmee, and Royal Palm Hammock) Bahama Islands (New Providence. Watling Islands, and Great Inagua); Porto Rico (Guanica Lagoon); and the Lesser Antilles (Antigua, St. Vincent, Barbados, Grenada, and Trinidad). South to the Lesser Antilles (Trinidad) northern Venezuela (Caracas) ; Brazil (Rio de Janeiro) ; Colombia (Medellin and Puerto Berrio); and Panama (Frijole and Chitra). West to Panama (Chitra and the Canal Zone); Costa Rica (San Jose); Nicaragua (Greytown and the Escondido River); Honduras (Comayagua and Manatee Lagoon); Guatemala (Duenas and Atitlan); Mexico (Guanajuato, Escuinapa, Mazatlan, San Jose del Cabo, and Colonia Diaz) ; California (Salton Sea, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, and Eureka); and Washington (Tacoma).

It also has been known to winter (where warm springs or other factors assure open water) north to Nevada (Paradise),Utah (Provo), Montana (Terry, Helena, and near Bozeman), Wyoming( Como and Cody), Colorado (Fountain Creek, Sweetwater Lake, Clear Creek near Denver, and near Julesburg), Nebraska (Holt, Sioux, Dawes, and Cherry Counties, and along the Missouri River), North Dakota (Fort Yates), Iowa (Hancock County), XVisconsin (Milwaukee), Michigan (Grand Rapids), southern Ontario (Barrie), Ohio (Granyule), New York (Oneida, Onondaga Lake, Poughkeepsie, Ithaca, New York City, and Long Island), Connecticut (Portland and New Haven), Massachusetts (Jamaica Plain, near Boston, Peabody, Hancock, and Cape Cod), and Nova Scotia (Wolfville). It has been detected in Alaska at Wrangell, on November 11, 1920, and at Craig, on December 7, 1919.

Spring migration: Early dates of arrival in the spring are: District of Columbia, Washington, February 17; Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, March 7, Harrisburg, March 11, Carlisle, March 18, Berwyn, March 21, and Meadville, March 22; New Jersey, Fort Mott, March 16, and Pennsville, March 20; New York, Syracuse, February 26, Branchport, March 5, Orient Point, March 12, Buffalo, March 13, Brockport, March 18, Lansing, March 29, Oswego, April 1, and Ithaca, April 3; Connecticut, Portland, March 18, and New Haven, March 19; Massachusetts, Lynn, March 2, Newburyport, March 8. Boston, March 19, Somerset, March 21, and Salem, March 21; Vermont, Rutland, April 2; Maine. Farmington, April 6, and Lewiston, April 8; Quebec, Quebec, April 18, Montreal, April 19, and Godbout, May 5; New Brunswick, Scotch Lake, April 5, Pctitcodiac, April 27, and Chatham, April 28; Nova Scotia, Halifax, April 5, Pictou, April 11, and Kentville, April 19; Kentucky, Bowling Green, February 24, Guthrie, February 25, and Russellville, February 26; Missouri, St. Louis, February 17, Old Orchard, February 20, Chillicothe, March 2, Jonesburg, March 11, and Kansas City, March 14; Illinois, Lebnon, February 11, Odin, March 6, Addison, March 10, Carlinville, March 11, Englewood, March 15, Morgan Park, March 17, Rockford, March 19, and Wheaton, March 26; Indiana, Bicknell, February 13, Greensburg, February 28, Frankfort, March 4, Greencastle, March 5, Bloomington, March 6, Brookville, March 7, Terre Haute, March 9, Vincennes, March 11, and Waterloo, March 12; Ohio, Granville, March 3, Cleveland, March 4, Columbus, March 8, Hudson, March 11, Sandusky, March 13, Oberlin, March 15, and New Bremen, March 18; Michigan, Ann Arbor, March 6, Vicksburg, March 18, Hillsdale, March 21, Kalamazoo, March 22, Battle Creek, March 24, Manchester, March 25, and Detroit, March 28; Ontario, Dunnville, March 24, Madoc, March 29, Queensboro, March 30, and Listowel, April 1; Iowa, Sabula, March 15, Boone, March 17, Grinnell, March 18, Keokuk, March 18, Coralville, March 19, Wall Lake, March 22, Cedar Rapids, March 23, and Sioux City, March 28; Wisconsin. Hillside, March 16, Madison, March 18, Elkhorn, March 19, Waukesha, March 20, Delavan, March 23, and Racine, March 24; Minnesota, Hutchinson, March 30, Minneapolis, March 29, Heron Lake, April 1, and Elk River, April 2; Oklahoma, Copan, March 8; Kansas, Emporia, March 14, Independence, March 19, and Wichita, March 19; Nebraska, Falls City, March 15, and Badger, March 25; South Dakota, Forestburg, March 12, Huron, March 15, and Sioux Falls, March 15; North Dakota, Fargo, April 15, Larimore, April 16, Lisbon, April 18, and Grafton, April 19; Manitoba, Greenridge, April 2, Dalton, April 8, Reaburn, April 9, Margaret, April 10, Aweme, April 14, and Shell River, April 16; Saskatchewan, Qu’Appelle, April 9, and Indian Head, April 20; Colorado, Denver, March 10, Boulder, March 19, and Sweetwater Lake, March 26; Wyoming, Yellowstone Park, March 16; Idaho, Neeley, March 24, Meridian, April 9, and Payette Lake, April 17; Montana, Missoula, March 4, Helena, March 12, and Columbia Falls, March 27; Alberta, Onoway, April 13, Carvel, April 15, and Edmonton, April 21; and Mackenzie, Fort Providence, May 2, and Fort Simpson. May 10.

Late dates of departure in the spring are: Costa Rica, February 16; Haiti, April 13; Florida, Tallahassee, April 10, Fruitland Park, April 10, Gainesville, April 15, and St. Marks, May 10; Georgia, Cumberland, April 14, and Savannah, April 15; South Carolina, Columbia, April 19, and Charleston, May 1; Chihuahua, LaI~ Palomas, April 8; Lower California, Colnett, April 8, and Salton River, April 19; and Texas, Kerrville, April 11, Bonham, April 30, and Austin, April 30.

Fall migration: Early dates of arrival in the fall are: Texas, Tivoli, August 19; Lower California, San Jose del Cabo, August 28; Chihuahua, Janos River, September 5, and Chuechupa, September 19; Sonora, August 19; South Carolina, Frogmore, September 10; Georgia, Savannah, September 15; Florida, St. Marks, September 12; Lesser Antilles, St. Croix, September 24, and Barbadoes, October 11; Porto Rico, Guanica Lagoon, September 29; Costa Rica, October 9; and Panama, Canal Zone, October 7.

Late dates of departure in the fall are: Montana, Big Sandy, October 24, and Missoula, December 5; Idaho, Meridian, November 21, and Ketchum, December 20; Wyoming, Sundance, November 25, and Yellowstone Park, December 9; Utah, Provo, November 25; Colorado, Greeley, November 3, and Boulder, December 24; Manitoba, Killarney, October 24, Aweme, November 5, and Margaret, November 10; North Dakota, Chase Lake, October 21, Westhope, November 3, and Marstonmoor, November 3; South Dakota, Harrison, October 24, and Sioux Falls, November 22; Nebraska, Falls City, November 20, Crawford, December 7, and Broken Bow, December 12; Kansas, Independence, December 13; Minnesota, Elk River, November 1, Jackson, November 6, Parkers Prairie, November 7, Fort Snelling, November 13, and Heron Lake, November 14; Wisconsin, Unity, November 3, Madison, November 6, Elkhorn, November 8, Shiocton, November 13, North Freedom, November 14, and Milwaukee, November 15; Iowa, Davenport, November 2, Grinnell, November 4, Hillsboro, November 11, Indianola, November 15, Marshalltown, November 18, Wall Lake, November 28, and Keokuk, November 28; Ontario, Toronto, October 29, Longpoint, November 2, Windsor, November 9, Kingston, November 12, Ottawa, November 17, and Point Pelee, November 21; Michigan, Hillsdale, November 3, Ann Arbor, November 5, Manistee, November 7, Manchester, November 12, Detroit, November 15, and Vicksburg, December 30; Ohio, Sejo, November 6, Salem, November 16, Oberlin, November 22, Youngstown, November 21, Sandusky, December 2, and Cleveland, December 29; Indiana, Bloomington, October 24, Bicknell, November 9, and Lyons, November 25; Illinois, Glen Ellyn, November 4, Canton, November 8, Fernwood, November 13, Lawrenceville, November 15, Elgin, November 17, and La Grange, November 23; Missouri, St. Louis, November 21, and St. Charles County, December 14; Nova Scotia, Pictou, October 24, and Halifax, December 3; New Brunswick, Scotch Lake, October 20, and St. John, November 5; Quebec, Quebec, November 5, and Montreal, November 13; Maine, Lewiston, November 5, Ellsworth, November 8, and Portland, November 15; Massachusetts, East Templeton, November 23, Salem, November 25, Lynn, December 20, and Belchertown, December 20; Rhode Island, Newport, December 3; Connecticut, New Haven, December 1, Portland, December 7, and Lakeville, December 28; New York, Geneva, November 3, West Winfield, November 13, Fair Haven Light, November 17, Branchport, November 24, Shelter Island, November 29, Madison County, December 10, and Orient Point, December 20; New Jersey, Bloomfield, November 1, Camden, November 7, Egg Island, November 8, and Pennsville, December 1; Pennsylvania, Berwyn, November 1, and Erie, November 21; and District of Columbia, Washington, December 22.

Casual records: A Wilson’s snipe was killed at Naaleho Plantation, Kau, Hawaiian Islands, several years prior to 1900 and a second was reported as seen in the same locality in the fall of the same year (Henshaw, 1902). It also has been reported as taken in Great Britain, but the record is too doubtful to warrant serious consideration.

Egg dates: Magdalen Islands: 36 records, June 1 to 27; 18 records, June 3 to 14. Alberta: 39 records, May 16 to July; 20 records, May 28 to June 10. Utah: 48 records, May 8 to July 24; 24 records, May 12 to June 2.




The European bird is so closely related to, being regarded now as only subspecifically distinct from, our Wilson snipe that I shall not attempt to write its full life history. The two birds resemble each other so closely in all their habits that this would involve useless repetition of much that I have written about the American bird.

The European snipe owes its place on our list to its occurrence, probably casually, in Greenland. There is a specimen in the British Museum that is supposed to have come from Canada, but its history is doubtful. The snipe that breeds in Iceland and the Faroe Islands has been separated, under the name faeroeensis, as subspecifically distinct from the bird breeding in Great Britain and in continental Europe. It seems quite likely that the Greenland records should be referred to this form.

Courtship: Much study has been given to this subject by European observers and differences of opinion still exist as to how the curious winnowing sound or bleating is produced. While the normal time for hearing this is during the spring months, it has been heard in February, during the summer and even occasionally in the fall. Rev. Henry H. Slater (1898) writes:

Opinions differ widely as to the means by which this curious sound is produced. Meves declared that the tail feathers were the instrument, and claimed to have produced it artificially by the snipe’s tail feathers fastened to the end of a long stick and swung through the air. Others hold that the tremulous motion of the tense ~ving feathers is the agency; a third theory is that the sound is vocal. The reader is at liberty to take his choice. I incline to the last, from analogy. I have seen the great snipe go through exactly the same evolutions at the nest, including the tremulous wings on the descending movement, and in perfect silence; I have watched the wood, the green, the broad-billed sandpipers, the Kentish plover, Temmilek’s and the little stint, and the red-necked phalarope, go through the same movements also at the nest, but in these cases the noise which accompanied the descending stage of the performance was unmistakably vocal.

Dr. Leonhard Steineger (1885) was also much inclined to the vocal theory when he wrote:

Not only this power of the sound, hut even more so the nature of the tune itself convinced me that it originates from the throat and not in any way either from the tail or the wing feathers, as suggested by many European writers. It is true that the wings are in a state of very rapid vibration during the oblique descent when the note is uttered, but this circumstance does not testify only in favor of the theory of the sound being produced by the wing, as the vibration most conclusively accounts for the quivering throat sound. Anybody stretching his arms out as if flying, and moving them rapidly np and down and simultaneously uttering any sound is bound to ‘ïbleat.” Having heard, however, from my early days, of the wing or tail theories as the only orthodox ones, I did not feel convinced of the correctness of my own opinion until one evening I heard another bird of the same family produce a very similar note ichilc sitting on the ground. Referring to the observation recorded under Arqnatdfla coucsi I here only remark that the sound was so similar as to leave no doubt whatever in my mind that it had a similar origin in both cases. It may be that a snipe has never been observed bleating on the ground, hut the fact that a so nearly allied bird is capable of producing essentinily the same sound while in that position is an argument In favor of the more natural explanation of the sound originating from the organ which in almost all other instances Is adapted to that purpose.

John M. Boraston (1903) gives an excellent account of this nuptial flight, as follows:

Another bird which the buoyant spirits of the breeding season urge into unusual prominence Is the common snipe. About the pairing time, at the beginning of April, he may for some weeks be observed on the wing frequently throughout the day. At such times he describes great circles in the air at a considerable height, the rapidly beating wings carrying him round at a high speed. At regular intervals during this great circling flight the wings arc laid out fiat, the one inside the great circle the bird is describing being tilted up and that outside depressed. At the same moment the tail feathers are opened out so that the sky may he seen between them as between the fingers of an open hand. Immediately the wings and tail are so set, the tips of the former begin to vibrate, the tail feathers remaining rigid, and the bird strikes off at a tangent, curving outward and slipping downward from the normal path of its circular flight. It is this recurring tangential deviation which causes the circle of the snipe’s flight to become so vast. During the outward curving downward flight the snipe’s strange humming note is heard, synchronizing precisely with the vibration of the tips of its wings. The bill is closed when the note is being emitted. The bird’s great circular flight is thus made up of two subordinate flights: the plain flight and the humming flight: in regular succession. Alter having described three or four great circles, the snipe reverses ita course and proceeds in the opposite direction; but It is to be observed that in its “humming” flight It still works always on its “outer edge,” the wing outside the great circle being invariably the one to be depressed and the one upon which the bird turns In performing the tangential, outward curving, downward flight. The sound made by the snipe may be nearly imitated by laughing in the throat with the lips closed, and associates itself in my mind with that made by the puffin when returning laden with fish to his burrow. It is like hollow, mirthless laughter; the expression of a wild earnest joy by sounds which to human ears seem mournful rather than joyous, and therefore unnatural, uncanny, weird. The snipe has aaother amusing trick In flight; he will suddenly jerk himself to one side, throw his wings halfway back, and allow himself to fall like a lopsided shuttlecock, until, as suddenly recovering himself, he sets off again on his circular career.

Seton Gordon (1915) gives the following good description of the snipe’s tail, by which the sound is probably made:

The tail feathers of the snipe are of so peculiar formation that it may be well to give here a description of them: In the first outer tall feather the shaft is exceptionally stiff and shaped like a saber. The rays of the web are strongly bound together and are very long: the longest, in fact, reaching nearly three-quarters of the whole length of the web. The rays lie along the shaft of the feather like the strings of a musical Instrument. Other species of snipe possess four drumming feathers, and one species has no fewer than eight. The drumming feathers of the hen snipe are not as strong as those of the male.

Eggs: The European snipe normally lays four eggs, rarely five. These are indistinguishable from eggs of our Wilson snipe. The measurements of 100 eggs, furnished by Rev. F. C. R. Jourdain, averaged 39.4 by 28.7 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 42.7 by 29, 39.3 by 30.3, 35 by 28.4 and 36.3 by 26.7 millimeters.

Young: The period of incubation is about 20 days. Several observers have reported seeing the snipe carry off her young between her legs, as the woodcock is known to do.

Mr. Gordon (1915) writes:

Although eminent authorities have stated that a snipe with a brood by her feigns lameness to distract attention, I have never found this to he the case, the bird Invariably flying off as she does when sitting on her eggs.

One warm July day I witnessed a very charming spectacle in a field bordering on a wide expanse of moorland. A kindred ornithologist and myself were seated at the edge of a wall overlooking the field when he became aware that a snipe was standing fearlessly in the long herbage a few yards from us. As we watched her, the bird came forward, and disappeared among some rushes bordering the wall. For the space of a minute or so she remained hidden, and we thought she had gone there to shelter, but presently she emerged from her obscurity, and following her closely were two small chicks. By comparison with the green grass these little people appeared almost black, so dark was their downy plumage. Their mother realized that danger was near, for she led them quickly away, hut never turned to see whether her children were following her. They kept their position close hehind her, although the pace for them was a quick one, and they were soon lost to sight behind a ridge. One realized how wonderfully obedient the chicks were: they were left in the rushes at the approach of danger, their mother havIng evidently enjoined them to remain concealed and without movement until she returned for them.

Behavior: An interesting account of the habits of a tame snipe, reared in captivity, is published by Hugh Wormald (1909) to which I would refer the reader.

Breeding range: Much of Europe and Asia. From Great Britain and Scandinavia (up to 700 N.) throughout northern Europe and Siberia. South, mainly in the mountains, to the Pyrenees, Alps, northern Italy, southern Russia,, Yarkand, and southeastern Mongolia. A few breed in the Azores, northwestern Africa, and India. Replaced by allied forms in Iceland, the Faroes, in tropical Africa, and in northeastern Asia.

Winter range: Great Britain, the Mediterranean basin, Madeira, Canaries, Azores, Africa (south to Senegambia on the west and Abyssinia on the east), Arabia, Sokotra, southern Asia, Japan, Borneo, Formosa, and the Philippine Islands.

Casual records: The only North American record, a specimen said to have been taken in Canada, is very doubtful. This and the Greenland and Bermuda records are probably referrable to the Iceland form, faieroee.nsi,s.

Egg dates: Great Britain: 70 records, March 3 to August 21; 35 records, April 29 to May 25. Iceland: 16 records, May 10 to June 6 8 records, May26 to June 3.

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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