Wilson's SnipeGallinago delicata

adult
Robert A.
adult
Richard Crossley/VIREO
adult
Arthur Morris/VIREO
adult
Richard Crossley/VIREO
adult
Johann Schumacher/VIREO

Family

Description

Often overlooked in migration and winter, the snipe is a solitary creature of wet fields and bogs, seldom seen on open mudflats. Flushed from the marsh, it darts away in zigzag flight, uttering harsh notes. The Wilson's Snipe becomes more flamboyant in the breeding season, when it often yammers from atop a fencepost or dead tree. At night on the nesting grounds, the ghostly winnowing flight sound of the males often echoes across the marshes.

Habitat

Marshes, bogs, wet meadows. In migration and winter found in a variety of damp habitats including fresh and salt marshes, muddy banks of rivers and ponds, wet pastures, flooded agricultural fields. In breeding season mostly around fresh marshes and bogs, shrubby streamsides, northern tundra.

Feeding Diet

Mostly insects and earthworms. Eats many insects that burrow in damp soil or live in shallow water, such as larvae of crane flies, horse flies, various beetles, many others. At some places, diet includes many earthworms. Also eats some leeches, crustaceans, mollusks, spiders, frogs, leaves, seeds.

Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly by probing in soft mud; bill tip is sensitive and flexible, allowing the snipe to detect and capture prey underground. Also captures some food in shallow water or from surface of ground.

Nesting

In breeding season, especially at night, male performs "winnowing" display: flies in high circles, periodically making shallow dives; during dive, vibration of outer tail feathers produces a hollow whinnying sound. In aggressive and distraction displays on ground, bird crouches, raising and spreading tail to show off pattern. Nest site is on ground, usually well hidden in clump of grass or buried in tundra vegetation. Nest (built by female) is shallow depression lined with fine grasses, leaves, moss, sometimes with overhanging plants woven into a kind of canopy. Eggs: 4, sometimes 3. Brown to olive-buff, marked with dark brown. Incubation is by female only, 18-21 days. Young: Downy young leave nest shortly after hatching. Parents may split brood, each caring for 1-2 of the chicks. Parents feed young at first, before they learn to find own food. Age at first flight about 19-20 days.

Eggs

4, sometimes 3. Brown to olive-buff, marked with dark brown. Incubation is by female only, 18-21 days. Young: Downy young leave nest shortly after hatching. Parents may split brood, each caring for 1-2 of the chicks. Parents feed young at first, before they learn to find own food. Age at first flight about 19-20 days.

Young

Downy young leave nest shortly after hatching. Parents may split brood, each caring for 1-2 of the chicks. Parents feed young at first, before they learn to find own food. Age at first flight about 19-20 days.

Conservation

Probably far more abundant at one time, reduced by market hunting in late 19th century and by loss of habitat; however, still widespread and common.

Range

Winters commonly in North America, but some travel longer distances; birds banded in Canada have reached Lesser Antilles and South America. Probably migrates alone, not in flocks.

Listen

#1 flight winnow (close)
#2 flight winnow (more distant)
#3 tickling call series
#4 grinding ticks
#5 scape alarm calls
#6 nest alarm calls

Similar Species

adult

American Woodcock

Related to the sandpipers, but strikingly different in habits. This rotund, short-legged bird hides in forest thickets by day, where it uses its long bill to probe in damp soil for earthworms. Its eyes are set far back on its head, allowing it to watch for danger even with its bill buried in the dirt. Males perform a remarkable "sky dance" on spring and summer nights, in a high, twisting flight, with chippering, twittering, bubbling sounds.

adult, breeding, Atlantic

Short-billed Dowitcher

The name of this species could be misleading: it is "short-billed" only by comparison to the Long-billed Dowitcher, and longer-billed than the average shorebird. Flocks of Short-billed Dowitchers wade in shallow water over coastal mudflats. They often seem rather tame, allowing a close approach when they are busy feeding.

Vireo

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