Thursday, November 5, 2009

Let's go on a snipe hunt!

Wilson's SnipeWilson's Snipe, Fernhill Wetlands, Forest Grove, Oregon on 12 October 2009 by Greg Gillson.


The young man stands alone in the woods at night, watching and waiting for the prey. In his hand is a large bag. He makes loud clucking sounds as directed. His friends are to be circling around, driving the strange birds toward him. Snipe are so stupid, his friends tell him, that they'll be easy for this young person to catch and put in his bag! He waits... and waits... and waits.

I've never actually known anyone to have been fooled by this practical joke, or even heard of anyone trying to play this joke on others. But I can imagine.

In actuality, snipes are diurnal shorebirds. They are found in wet bogs and the grassy edges of marshes. Rarely do they venture out far into the water or out on the mudflats, away from cover. When danger appears they crouch and freeze (as in the above photo), usually blending in to the marsh vegetation with their camouflage plumage. When danger gets too close--such as an oblivious birder on the shoreline looking at ducks out in the marsh, this bird bursts from underfoot with a raspy call and zigzagging flight.

In the Pacific NW, Wilson's Snipes nest in grassy wet meadows. They winter in similar wet situations where water remains unfrozen. They are widespread in migration. They are told apart from other long-billed shorebirds, especially the similar dowitchers, by their blackish backs with long straw-colored lines and the striped head and face.


  1. "snipe are striped" is the saying to help separate them from other shorebirds.

    Greg, I was a victim of the Snipe Hunt as a new Boy Scout at 12 years old. I am responsible for perpetuating the hunt on dozens of other scouts who came after me. Ah...the memories. I can still here the kids hollering "Here snipe! Here snipe!" from the hills while I sat cozily sipping hot cocoa around the camp fire.

    My son has seen real Wilson's Snipe with me on a few occasions so I am confident he will never become a victim of the Snipe Hunt initiation.

  2. Dorothy Ferris December 15th 2013
    We had one in our back yard, Central Point. He flew into our window. It took him a little while to recover but he managed to gather his composer and flew away, but not before he plunged his long bill into the earth for worms or grubs. What a beautiful bird. We felt so lucky that he was O.K. and that we got to get so close to him.