| Species: Wilson’s Snipe
The Wilson’s Snipe is one of the most abundant and widespread
shorebirds of North America. It is found in wet, grassy habitats and
along shorelines. However, it is an elusive species and the usual
view of Gallinago delicata is as it flushes from grass or sedges,
escaping in rapid, zigzag flight while uttering a rasping ‘scaipe’.
It breeds through most of Canada and the northern United States. It
winters from southern Alaska and Massachusetts south to northern
General: A cryptically patterned, medium-sized shorebird.
Very stocky, short-winged and short-legged. Often crouches low to
the ground. Long billed with boldly striped back and head. Length
25-28 cm, wing span 43-48 cm, weight 79-146 g.
Adult Male: Dark brownish overall, with bold cream-coloured
stripes on back and head. Dark under wing, white belly and heavily
barred flanks. Very long, straight bill.
Adult Female: Sexes are outwardly similar.
Similar Species: Smaller and chunkier than dowitchers, with shorter
wings, tail, and legs but with a larger head. This Snipe also has
darker under wings and exhibits more twisting in flight than
dowitchers. G. delicata is closely related to the American Woodcock
and is about the same size but less stocky, more streaked with a
Behaviour: Snipe probe in soil and mud frequently sticking
their entire bill and sometimes their head under water. They swallow
small items without withdrawing its bill. Snipe feed both day and
night but are primarily crepuscular and are regularly seen flying to
and from foraging areas at dawn and dusk. They eat larval insects,
worms, crustaceans, mollusks, some vegetation and seeds.
The hollow, low whistled sound called “winnowing” is used by the
male to defend his territory and attract a mate. It is not a vocal
sound, but rather is produced by air flowing over the outstretched
tail feathers with each wing beat. The outer tail feathers are
greatly modified to produce the sound and are thin and curved.
During the display flight the bird flies in wide circles at about
152m or more, then periodically dives at a 45 degree angle and
Habitat: This is an elusive and generally secretive species
using its camouflaged plumage and vegetative cover to hide from
predators. It forages in marshes, wet meadows, wet fields, and the
marshy edges of streams and ditches and often is not seen until
The Wilson’s Snipe was recently recognized as a different species
from the Common Snipe of Eurasia (G. gallinago). The two snipes look
extremely similar, but differ in both winnowing display sounds and
morphology allowing full specific status for the two species.
The long bill of the Wilson’s Snipe is flexible. The tips can be
opened and closed with no movement at the base of the bill. Sensory
pits at the tip of the bill, a character shared with other
sandpipers, allow the snipe to feel its prey deep in the mud. The
eyes of the snipe are set remarkably far back on its head, providing
full vision to both sides and a binocular overlap to the rear. This
arrangement enables a bird to detect the approach of a predator
while its beak is fully buried in the substrate.
The snipe is typically seen singly or in small flocks of a dozen or
more. Sometimes it gathers in larger numbers in prime habitat.
Juveniles tend to gather in loose aggregations of up to 100 at age
The nest is a neat, woven cup of grasses placed on the ground, often
in a hummock of grass close to or surrounded by water. The clutch
size is almost always four eggs either dark or pale brown with dark
spots. The male snipe takes the first two chicks to hatch and leaves
the nest with them. The female takes the last two and cares for
them. Apparently the parents have no contact after that point.
Least concern. Common and widespread, but harder to see than other
Although consistently seen in the park, Wilson's Snipe are
not commonly captured preferring to stick to the more open
and wet grassland areas surrounding the banding station. The
graph reflects capture of two individuals in October of
2011. Capture rates are standardized as birds captured per
100 net hours from 2010 - 2012.