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.