Common SnipeGallinago gallinago (Linnaeus)
Status Common in summer, very rare in winter. Breeds. Snipe first arrive in late March and the first half of April (average 8 April, earliest 16 March); a "tired" bird on Chebogue Point, Yarmouth County, on 8 March 1982 (E. Ruff) was abnormally early. Most depart in October, but stragglers are regular until January and attempts at overwintering are occasionally successful (Tufts 1915).
Description Length: 26-29 cm. All plumages: Bill long and straight. Adults: Upperparts mottled brown of various shades striped and flecked with buffy white; breast buffy gray, spotted with grayish brown; belly white; flanks barred with black; legs and feet greenish gray; tail black with broad, brick-red subterminal bar.
Breeding Nest: On the ground in wet meadows; a slight depression in a small mound slightly above normal water levels, lined with dry grass. Eggs: 4; olive-green to light brown or buff, heavily blotched with dark or chocolate-brown chiefly around the larger end. Laying begins in early May and continues for about ten days. Two nests at Black River, King's County, each contained four fresh eggs; one nest was found on 10 May 1906, the other on 4 May 1938. In each case the sitting bird flushed close underfoot and was soon joined by its mate. Mousley (1939) records the incubation period as 20 days.
Range In North America, breeds from Alaska to Newfoundland, south to the middle states. Winters regularly in restricted areas from southern limits of its breeding range, south to northern South America. Widely distributed also in the Old World.
Remarks Known as "jack-snipe" to many sportsmen, it is little hunted in Nova Scotia and its numbers vary only slightly from year to year. Although classified as a shorebird, it is practically never seen on exposed beaches or tidal mudflats, its natural habitat being the wet meadows and bushy swamps that provide it with food and protective cover.
Unlike the woodcock, to which it is closely related, the snipe may perform its courtship flight by night or by day and remains aloft much longer, particularly on moonlit nights and cloudy or rainy days. The hollow, tremulous notes, best described as who-who-who-who-who-who, which come from high overhead with increasing and decreasing volume or intensity, are referred to as "winnowing" or "drumming." Some writers say this weird sound is caused by the passage of the air through the stiff feathers of the bird's tail, but others believe that both the tail and wing-beats are involved. I have often noted that the sound begins at the precise moment the flying bird suddenly swerves upward. When the slanting, downward course begins, the normal wing motion suddenly changes to a pulsating, fluttering movement, ending abruptly when the bird starts to rise to its former flight level. Although we commonly associate these flight performances with the nesting season, a snipe was heard winnowing as late as 5 November 1951 over a swampy meadow near Cambridge, Kings County.
The snipe has at least three vocal sounds. Two calls, which I have only heard during the nesting season, are given when the bird is perched on the ground, a fence rail or taller tree stump. One is pleasing, like the piping of a frog, and the other is a harsh kuk-kuk-kuk. Both are repeated slowly, often for quite long periods. The third is a harsh, raspy scaip-scaip, repeated excitedly two or three times, chiefly when the bird is flushed from its feeding. This suddenly given and sometimes disconcerting note, heard at any season, is the one best known to hunters.
Twice during late summer, I have seen flocks of snipe flying high in close formation. One flock of about 40 birds alit on a mudflat at Black River Lake, Kings County, where the water was very low at the time. When flushed, they arose and flew off in formation as before. The other flock, of about 25 birds, dropped into a swamp on Wolfville Ridge. When flushed, they too flew off in a close flock. The only other record I have concerning snipe flocking in this way comes from Charles R.K. Allen, who saw 23 flush in unison at Cole Harbour, Halifax County, on 31 October 1964.
Rural people living near meadows where snipe are nesting have long known this bird as the "meadow-hen." Many know it only from its strange sound produced in spring and summer high up over the meadows and have little idea what the bird looks like.
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