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Wilson's Snipe wilsons snipe

Some people probably remember belonging to a group such as the boy scouts that went snipe hunting on a camping trip.  Many of them came away with the belief that snipes don't actually exist.  They do exist they, just can't be caught by hand.

Identification and Pictures

(Gallinago delicata)wilsons snipe

Snipes are a stocky shorebird with pointed-wings.  Their greenish legs are short compared to some other shorebirds.  Sometimes mistaken for Spotted Sandpipers, snipes are larger, about 10 1/2 inches.  It has an extremely long, slender pointed bill, useful for probing in wet mud for food.  It is brown with a buff striped back, pale breast with darker spots, and bars, and the head has alternating dark, and pale stripes.  When it is flushed a short orange tail can be seen as it flies off.

Photos by Keith Lee.  The camera I use is the Canon EOS 40D.

The sexes are similar and the juveniles resemble the adults.

     wilsons snipe

They are easily concealed in ground vegetation because of their camouflaged plumage.  When flushed  they fly off in a series of aerial zig-zags to confuse predators.

Wilson's snipe was formerly considered a sub species of the Common snipe.  Common snipes have eight pairs of tail feathers, instead of seven, and a narrower white edge to the wings. 

Two other similar birds are dowitchers, which have longer legs, lack the stripes on the back, and down the crown, and have a white rump, and woodcocks which are orange-buff below.

Snipe sound

Sounds they make are a chipa chipa chipa, a flight call that is a dry, harsh rasping "kesh", and a hollow winnowing huhuhuhu sound.

Preferred Habitat

In summer they range from Alaska through Canada to north-central U.S., and extend from there south through the rest of North America in the winter.  In the pacific north western U.S. snipes are residents all year long.  They like the edges of shallow ponds, marshes, bogs, stream sides, wet meadows, and damp forests.

Breeding and Nesting

Males start arriving in the breeding territory 10 to 14 days before the females.  They may be seen singing from the top of fence posts.  During  courtship flights males do an aerial territorial display where they do a series of shallow dives in a large circle, each time climbing back up to do it again.  As they descend the tail feathers make a strange winnowing sound.  Females build a cup-shaped nest of fine grasses, dead leaves, and mosses lined with fine grass in a hollow ground depression, in a wet meadow or marsh.  The female usually lays 4 olive brown eggs marked with dark spots.  She will incubate them for 18-20 days.  Young birds fledge in 19-20 days.  Often the parents will split the young birds, each being responsible for one or two.  The young birds will start to probe for their own food in around 6 days, but the parents will still provide them with food for a while. 


Snipes feed on wet ground for grubs, aquatic insects, worms, and plant material.  Feeding in shallow water they probe into the mud with their long slender bills in a rapid sewing machine motion.

To learn about other favorite birds click here.


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