Wilson's Snipe Life History

Habitat

Habitat MarshesWilson’s Snipes can be found in all types of wet, marshy settings, including bogs, fens, alder and willow swamps, wet meadows, and along rivers and ponds. They avoid areas with tall, dense vegetation, but need patches of cover to hide in and to provide a safe lookout for predators. In the western U.S., look for Wilson’s Snipes in wetlands with sedges, rushes, and cattails, including wet pastures and other agricultural fields. In the South, Wilson’s Snipes winter in rice and sugarcane fields. Back to top

Food

Food Aquatic invertebratesWilson’s Snipes feed mainly on insect larvae, including flies such as crane, horse and deer flies as well as beetles, dragonflies, crickets, grasshoppers, ants, mayflies, butterflies, caddis flies and moths. Other invertebrate prey include snails, crustaceans, and worms. Wilson’s Snipes use their flexible bills to probe for food in wet soil and can swallow small prey without having to pull their bill from the soil. They occasionally eat small vertebrates including lizards, frogs, fish, and nestling birds. Plant materials make only a minor contribution to their diets.Back to top

Nesting

Nest Placement

Nest GroundFollowed by her partner, the female Wilson’s Snipe makes several scrapes before selecting a nest site on the ground close to or even surrounded by water. The nest is often placed atop or on the edge of a hummock and well hidden by sedges, grass, or sphagnum moss. Willow, alder, or other brush may obscure the nest from above.

Nest Description

The female Wilson’s Snipe makes a shallow scrape in moist soil, then weaves a lining of coarse grasses to build a nest up to 7 inches across and 3 inches deep. She adds finer grasses to the inside, creating a more elaborate nest than the simple scrapes most shorebirds make. Before and after laying each egg the female adds a few grasses or sedges from the edge of the nest site.

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size:2-4 eggs
Egg Length:1.4-1.7 in (3.5-4.3 cm)
Egg Width:1.0-1.2 in (2.6-3 cm)
Incubation Period:18-20 days
Egg Description: Olive brown splotched with dark brown, black or purple.
Condition at Hatching:Active, covered with tan to chestnut down blotched with black, with a white streak on crown and over eye. The chicks leave the nest on the day of hatching.
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Behavior

Behavior ProbingThis elusive bird sleeps much of the day, then feeds around dusk and dawn. They probe for insect larvae and other prey in marshes, bogs, along pond and river edges, and in other wet settings, using the sensory receptors at the tip of their long, straight bills to locate food. Despite their somewhat pudgy, unbalanced look, Wilson’s Snipe are strong, fast flyers reaching speeds of more than 60 miles per hour. If you flush one, it will burst from cover with a characteristic zigzagging flight that distinguishes it from other sandpipers. These birds are best known for their dramatic “winnowing” courtship displays: as a snipe (usually a male but sometimes a female) circles and dives over the breeding territory, air rushes over the outspread tail feathers. This creates a haunting, whirring hu-hu-hu sound. Both males and females winnow as part of courtship or to rebuff potential predators, and males perform the winnowing flight when advertising and defending territory. Like many sandpipers, a Wilson’s Snipe with eggs or chicks will attempt to distract a predator with an elaborate show of feigned injury, fluttering up from the nest and falling to the ground, or flopping on its side or breast and beating its wings.Back to top

Conservation

Conservation Low ConcernWilson’s Snipe is widespread and overall populations remained stable between 1966 and 2014, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. The global breeding population, which is shared between the U.S. and Canada, is estimated at 2 million individuals. The species is not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List. Approximately 105,000 Wilson's Snipe were taken annually by hunters between 2006 and 2010 in the U.S. and Canada combined; this number was probably several times higher during the mid-twentieth century. Wilson’s Snipes depend on wetlands, and draining or conversion of wetlands is detrimental to this species. Other threats include collisions with lighthouses, radio, TV, and cell towers, buildings, and cars.Back to top

Credits

Andres, B. A., P. A. Smith, R. I. G. Morrison, C. L. Gratto-Trevor, S. C. Brown and C. A. Friis. 2012a. Population estimates of North American shorebirds, 2012. Wader Study Group Bulletin no. 119 (3):178-194.

Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin and D. Wheye (1988). The birder's handbook. A Field Guide to the natural history of North American birds, including all species that regularly breed north of Mexico. Simon and Schuster Inc., New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2015.2. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2015.

Mueller, Helmut. 1999. Wilson's Snipe (Gallinago delicata), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

North American Bird Conservation Initiative. 2014. The State of the Birds 2014 Report. US Department of Interior, Washington, DC, USA.

Raftovich, R. V., K. A. Wilkins, S. S. Williams and H. L. Spriggs. 2012a. Migratory bird hunting activity and harvest during the 2010 and 2011 hunting seasons. Laurel: US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, J. E. Fallon, K. L. Pardieck, Jr. Ziolkowski, D. J. and W. A. Link. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, results and analysis 1966-2013 (Version 1.30.15). USGS Patuxtent Wildlife Research Center 2014b. Available from http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley guide to birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, USA.

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