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Wilson's Snipe Life History


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


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


Nest Placement

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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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


Low Concern

Wilson’s Snipe is widespread, and overall, populations remained stable between 1966 and 2019, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 2 million individuals and rates them 9 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. In the U.S., approximately 93,000 Wilson's Snipe were taken annually by hunters between 2019 and 2021. This number was probably several times higher during the mid-twentieth century. Wilson’s Snipes depend on wetlands, and as such, the draining or conversion of wetland habitat is detrimental to this species. Other threats include collisions with lighthouses, radio, TV, and cell towers, buildings, and cars.

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Andres, B. A., P. A. Smith, R. I. G. Morrison, C. L. Gratto-Trevor, S. C. Brown, and C. A. Friis (2012). Population estimates of North American shorebirds, 2012. Wader Study Group Bulletin 119:178–194.

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, NY, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

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.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Raftovich, R. V., K. K. Fleming, S. C. Chandler, and C. M. Cain (2021). Migratory bird hunting activity and harvest during the 2019–20 and 2020-21 hunting seasons. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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