Photo: Patty McGann/Flickr Creative Commons

Wilson's Snipe

Gallinago delicata

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.
Conservation status 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.
Family Sandpipers
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.
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.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
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  • adult
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.


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.

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.


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.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Migration

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.

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Migration

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.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A sharp rasping scaip! when flushed.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.