Already a subscriber? Sign in Don't have a subscription? Subscribe Now
Wilson's Snipe
Gallinago delicata
Order
CHARADRIIFORMES
– Family
SCOLOPACIDAE
Authors: Mueller, Helmut

Welcome to the Birds of North America Online!

Welcome to BNA Online, the leading source of life history information for North American breeding birds. This free, courtesy preview is just the first of 14 articles that provide detailed life history information including Distribution, Migration, Habitat, Food Habits, Sounds, Behavior and Breeding. Written by acknowledged experts on each species, there is also a comprehensive bibliography of published research on the species.

A subscription is needed to access the remaining articles for this and any other species. Subscription rates start as low as $5 USD for 30 days of complete access to the resource. To subscribe, please visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology E-Store.

If you are already a current subscriber, you will need to sign in with your login information to access BNA normally.

Subscriptions are available for as little as $5 for 30 days of full access! If you would like to subscribe to BNA Online, just visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology E-Store.

Introduction

Adult Wilson's Snipe, breeding plumage; Oregon, June
Figure 1. Distribution of Wilson's Snipe in the Western Hemisphere.

One of the most abundant and widespread shorebirds in North America, Wilson’s Snipe breeds in suitable habitats throughout Canada and in the northern United States. Its taxonomic history has been unsettled. Historically considered both a subspecies of the Common Snipe (G. gallinago) and distinct from that species, recent taxonomy has concluded that differences in both winnowing display sounds and morphology allow full specific status for these close relatives (Banks et al. 2002).

This is an elusive species; the usual view of a Wilson's Snipe is as it flushes from grass or sedges, escaping in rapid, zigzag flight while uttering a rasping scaipe. During spring migration, and particularly on the breeding territory, this species engages in spectacular flight displays, during which individuals produce a haunting, tremulous sound (Winnow) with their outspread outer tail-feathers.

The name “snipe” is derived from “snite,” a variant of “snout,” and refers to the long bill of the bird. The French and Spanish names are derived from bec, “beak.” The snipe’s long beak has sensory pits near the tip, a character shared with other sandpipers, which help individuals detect prey as they probe in mud for small invertebrates. The eyes of the snipe are set remarkably far back on its head, providing full vision to both sides and a binocular overlap to the rear. This arrangement enables a bird to detect the approach of a predator while its beak is fully buried in the substrate.

This account is based largely on Leslie Tuck’s (1972) monograph of the species. Tuck studied Wilson’s Snipe for more than 15 years, mostly in Newfoundland but also in Ontario, Louisiana, Florida, and Venezuela. Little has been published on the species in North America since 1972, although considerable work has been done recently on Common Snipe in Eurasia. Marshy habitat, cryptic coloration, and crepuscular habits make for remarkably poor knowledge of this common species.