Common Snipe makes peculiar sounds

The Common Snipe, which used to be called Wilson’s Snipe, is the only shore bird besides the Woodcock which can be legally hunted in Canada.

It is often called the bog snipe or the jacksnipe.

This bird somewhat resembles the Woodcock although it is not quite so peculiar. It has striped and mixed browns on the upper part of its body. The underparts shade from buff to white, and the tail shows orange or reddish in flight.

The snipe has a long, slender, and flexible bill. Its food consists mainly of worms, snails, various larvae, and the like. Since it must find these in soft, moist soil, it lives only in boggy lands–and may spend lots of time on pond, lake, or sea shores.

The snipe is difficult to hunt. It flies up and away in a flash with a zig-zag pattern, which makes it difficult to hit. When startled, it zooms off with a harsh “scraipe-scraipe” sound.

It makes another sound when it is courting, however. This is the “winnowing” sound made by its wings and tail. The male bird flies very high in the air and dives with wings beating fast and tail spread. That gives the peculiar sound–apparently delightful to the female of the species.

A long time ago, this bird was extremely abundant. People used to shoot shorebirds both for food and to sell. Shotguns could be used to obtain several birds at once so market hunters could get all kinds of them at one go.

In the old days, snipe brought $3 a dozen on the New York market.

They are really quite small, weighing in at only about six ounces or so. The breasts are the only good eating part, and are said to be very tasty.

The snipe has many relatives–sandpipers, curlews, plovers, and so on. Although hunting Common Snipe is legal, all others (except Woodcock) are protected.

Trouble is that a great many hunters are not well up on their bird recognition. So there are a great many mistaken identities, especially on the ocean and Great Lake shores.

It has been estimated that, in Nova Scotia alone, almost 25 percent of the birds shot as “snipe” are really protected species.

Wilson’s Snipe breed in almost all of Canada except the high Arctic. It also breeds in most northern parts of the world, and as far south as Venezuela, Brazil, and the Faeroe Islands.

The really great flocks used to be found in North America but the hunting of this bird is surely contributing to the reduction of the snipe itself, as well as to similar species on this continent.

Listen for the Common Snipe (Capella galinago) in the springtime. That peculiar sound from high in the air just might be him.