Birds – Snipe

In the typical Snipe (Gallinago), which are also sometimes referred to Scolopax, the lower portion of the tibia is nearly or quite bare of feathers, and the body is more slender and the legs relatively longer, while the number of tail-feathers varies from twelve to twenty-four. Another character serving to separate them from the Woodcocks is afforded by the longitudinal instead of trans-verse black markings on the head. Of the twenty-three forms now referred to this genus, North America lays claim to but one, the Wilson’s Snipe (G. delicata), though the closely related European Snipe (G. gallinago) is of frequent occurrence in Greenland. Seven or eight species are found in South America, while the remainder are widely spread throughout the Old World.

The Wilson’s Snipe, which is spread throughout the whole of North and middle America and the West Indies, but breeding only northward from the northern parts of the United States, is a bird about eleven inches in length, with the entire upper parts brownish black, barred, mottled, and bordered with various shades of cream-buff, while the throat is white, the neck and breast buff, indistinctly streaked with brownish, and the abdomen white, sharply barred with slate-color; the number of tail-feathers is usually sixteen. This species mainly frequents low, wet meadows and boggy grounds, occasionally resorting to wet swales and springy thickets, but only rarely visiting the salt marshes. When flushed it rises from the ground with astonishing swiftness, uttering a series of hoarse scaipes, and goes off with an exceedingly swift but erratic and tortuous flight for a distance of some twenty yards, when its flight becomes more steady. It is very difficult to shoot on the wing, requiring experienced marksmanship and steady nerves, for one never knows which way it will turn. Although not quite so nocturnal in its habits as the Woodcock, it is mainly active at night or in dark weather, and secures its food by probing in the soft ground. During the mating season it indulges in a series of aerial gymnastics, sometimes called “drumming” or “bleating,” an account of which we quote from Mr. Joseph Grinnell, who observed them in the Kowak Valley, Alaska. He was first attracted by a curious, far-off song, which he finally traced to a bird high up in the sky. “It was flying slowly in a broad circle with a diameter of perhaps 600 yards. 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 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. This curious song flight was kept up for fifteen minutes, ending with a downward dash. But before the bird reached the ground, and was yet some twenty yards above it, there was apparently a complete col-lapse. 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.” The nest is the usual simple hollow in the ground, and is generally lined with a few grass blades or leaves; the eggs are four in number, and the color olive-brown or grayish drab, thickly spotted, mostly at the larger end, with chocolate. The flesh of the Wilson’s Snipe is excellent eating, and it is in high favor with sportsmen, not only on this account, but from the skill required in securing it.

The European Snipe (G. gallinago) above mentioned is almost exactly similar in coloration to the Wilson’s, but may be distinguished by a tail of usually fourteen feathers and the much longer bill. It is widely spread throughout Europe and northern Asia, wintering in northeastern Africa and the Indian countries. Its habits are similar to those of its American cousin, including the production of the sounds likened to the bleating of a kid, drumming, etc., though its flight is, perhaps, not quite so erratic when flushed.

Other Species. — Of the other Old World species, mention may be made of the Wood Snipe (G. nemoricola) of the Indian peninsula and Assam, which is a little larger and duller colored than the last, but is otherwise quite similar. It is described as a solitary bird, frequenting swampy localities, often in the Himalayas ascending to from 8000 to 12,000 feet altitude. The Pin-tailed Snipe (G. stenura), which breeds in eastern Siberia and migrates in winter to the Indian peninsula, China, and the Moluccas, is distinguished at once by possessing a tail of twenty-six feathers, of which eight on either side are narrow, stiff, and shorter than the others; its colors are quite like those of the common European species (G. gal-linage). Smallest of all is the little Jack Snipe (G. gallinula), which is sometimes placed in a genus by itself (Limnocryptes), and which may be known by a length of seven and a half or eight inches and a tail of twelve soft, pointed feathers. This bird breeds in the northern part of Europe and Asia, mainly north of the Arctic Circle, and winters far south. Of the group of South American species the Paraguay Snipe (G. paraguayce) may serve as the example. About ten and a half inches long, brown, striped and barred with black and fulvous above, and white, marbled with dusky and brown below, it is an abundant and resident species in the Plata district, breeding in the midst of great marshes, but as soon as the young are able to fly returning again to the more open, wet country, where they sometimes congregate in flocks of many hundreds. They are then very wild and difficult of approach. It has the habit of performing aërial evolutions similar to those described for the Wilson’s Snipe, and Mr. Hudson says that the “singular grinding sounds caused by their feathers in their violent descent from a great height become distinctly audible at a distance of a mile.” Brazil and Paraguay is the home of the Giant Snipe (G. gigantea), the largest of the Snipes, which attains a length of nineteen inches.