At a Glance
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.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Sandpiper-like Birds, Sandpipers
Coasts and Shorelines, Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Freshwater Wetlands, Saltwater Wetlands, Tundra and Boreal Habitats
Alaska and The North, California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Rapid Wingbeats, Running
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
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.
10 1/2" (27 cm). A dumpy sandpiper with very long bill, short legs. Heavily marked with lengthwise stripes on head and back, bars on sides.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Robin
Black, Brown, Red, White
Pointed, Short, Tapered
Rounded, Short, Wedge-shaped
Songs and Calls
A sharp rasping scaip! when flushed.
Flat, Rising, Undulating
Chirp/Chip, Odd, Rattle, Scream, Whistle
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.
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4, sometimes 3. Brown to olive-buff, marked with dark brown. Incubation is by female only, 18-21 days.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Wilson's Snipe. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Wilson's Snipe
Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.