Snipe

Gallinago gallinago

25-28cm

Appearance

A medium, robust wader that has a very long and straight bill, and relatively short legs. Its back is mostly buffish-brown, though the dark barring and streaks make an ornate pattern; has four paler stripes down the back, though they're less distinct than the Jack Snipe's. It has a blackish crown with a narrow pale line in the centre, the underparts are white, the breast and flanks streaked with dark. When flying there's a white trailing edge on the wings, which are pointed, and the tail is short.

Habitat

Prefers ground that is boggy; breeding takes place in wet pastures, marshes and waterlogged moorlands. Most of the region's population is found in Scotland, Ireland and northern England. This bird is more distributed during the winter, and feeds in lowland marshy areas, near the coast and inland too.

Character

It feeds by sticking its long bill into mud and moving it up and down so it resembles a sewing machine. A secretive bird that flies in a zigzag pattern, though prefers to freeze and trust its camouflage to trick potential danger. Doesn't associate in large flocks, though doesn't mind feeding in proximity to others and may fly in loose groups. Its display flight involves 'drumming', a humming sound that occurs in flight when air travels through poised outer tail feathers.

Food

Diet includes beetles, flies, ants, adults and larvae of craneflies, caddis flies and damselflies.

Breeding

Male constructs a nest amongst vegetation, usually in April, though some birds don't breed until August. Female lays 4 eggs which she incubates for 18-20 days. Both adults feed the young and once the hatchlings leave the nest, they're divided in two and put under the separate care of each parent. Young are able to fly at about 19-20 days old, signalling their independence.

Population

Many breeding birds from northern England and Scotland reach Ireland in the autumn. Winter birds from Iceland, northern Europe and the Faroes arrive in Britain and Ireland between September and November and depart between March and May. Approximately 80 000 pairs breed in Britain and up to 19 000 in Ireland.

Observation Tips

Mostly likely to be seen in the breeding season, when birds can be territorial, scanning their area from outposts or raised vegetation. Display flights occur at this time too, so check the skies and listen for the distinctive drumming sound that accompanies display flight.

Voice

The noise made in the breeding season comes from the vibration of tail feathers; sounds like a strange humming. It also has a double 'kreech' call if disturbed, and a quick 'chip-er, chip-er' call in spring.
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