What is a Wilson's Snipe?

Jacob Queen
Jacob Queen
Veterinarian with a puppy
Veterinarian with a puppy

The Wilson’s snipe is a bird species that lives primarily in North America. They have a rounded body and short stubby legs, and they are about 10.5-inches (27 cm) long from the tail to the tip of the beak. Their coloring is a speckled brown and black shade with stripes on the back. One of their most distinctive features is the long pointed beak, which helps them forage for food. They can sometimes migrate as far north as Canada and Alaska and as far south as Central America, based on seasonal changes.

The birds are mostly carnivorous, but they also eat a certain amount of plant material. Their main source of food is worms and insects that they dig out with their long beaks. They occasionally eat a few seeds and other edible items they encounter while foraging.

The Wilson’s snipe is solitary in most situations, but they can also form flocks. They tend to stay alone in the daytime, and if they flock together, it will normally happen in the evening. The birds generally gather food during the morning hours or just before dark. Their coloring helps them to camouflage, which can make them hard to observe.

Male snipes use a technique called winnowing to help attract a mate. They will dive downwards in a way that causes air to rush over their tail feathers, creating a humming sound. Some experts think this may also help to intimidate other males and protect the bird's territory. The flight is preformed in a circling pattern with repeated dives to create the sound. They also sit in high places and call loudly in a way that apparently helps attract female birds.

The male birds set up a breeding territory about two weeks before the female’s arrival. The Wilson's snipe birds will build nests on the ground by digging a small hole and lining it with soft things like plant stems and moss. In a normal breeding season, the female lays a clutch of four eggs, and she handles all the incubation duties alone. The newborn birds hatch after approximately 20 days.

Young Wilson's snipe birds will generally leave the nest pretty quickly after they are born, but they don't immediately become independent. Both parents help take care of them in the early going. They will start finding their own food after about five days, but the parents continue to help feeding them for about three weeks. After that, the birds are on their own.

Discussion Comments


And, they're very tasty. Aside from the prank "snipe hunt", they are commonly hunted in North America and are fantastic grilled/roasted. --Chris

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    • Veterinarian with a puppy
      Veterinarian with a puppy