Drumming (snipe)

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Two common snipe standing next to each other
Common snipe

Drumming (also called bleating or winnowing) is a sound produced by snipe as part of their courtship display flights. The sound is produced mechanically (rather than vocally) by the vibration of the modified outer tail feathers, held out at a wide angle to the body, in the slipstream of a power dive. The display is usually crepuscular, or given throughout moonlit nights.[1] The behaviour is generally characteristic of the genera Coenocorypha, Gallinago and Lymnocryptes. Sounds made by the closely related woodcocks (Scolopax spp.) in the course of their 'roding' display flights may be homologous to drumming.

The sound made by Gallinago snipes has been variously described as "drumming", "bleating", "throbbing", a "rattle" and an "eerie fluting".[1][2] The drumming of the jack snipe (Limnocryptes minimus) has been likened to the sound made by a cantering or galloping horse.[3] Miskelly records Coenocorypha snipes giving a non-vocal “roar” homologous to the drumming displays of Gallinago snipes, a sound formerly ascribed to a mythological bird, the hakawai.[4] When breeding in northern Japan, Latham's snipe (Gallinago hardwickii) are known as “thunder birds” for the drumming noise made in the course of their display flights.[5]

First recreation of the sound[edit]

Philip Manson-Bahr is credited with unravelling the mystery of how snipe create the drumming sound which is unlike vocal birdsong. He found out that the sound was created by placing two tail feathers at 90 degrees to the direction of flight. When diving these feathers create this unusual sound. He demonstrated this in front of the British Ornithologists' Union by inserting two snipe tail feathers into a cork which he then whirled around his head on a string.[6]


  1. ^ a b Taylor, LE (1925). "Further notes on the flight performance of the snipe". Condor. Cooper Ornithological Society. 27 (6): 224–226. doi:10.2307/1363286. JSTOR 1363286.
  2. ^ Moore, Grenville (March 2004). "Oxhill News: Nature Notes". Retrieved 2008-01-23.
  3. ^ Ratcliffe, Derek. (2006). Lapland: A Natural History. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-11553-9
  4. ^ Miskelly, CM (1990). "Aerial Displaying and Flying Ability of Chatham Island Snipe Coenocorypha pusilla and New Zealand Snipe C. aucklandica". Emu. 90 (1): 28–32. doi:10.1071/MU9900028.
  5. ^ "Latham's Snipe - Did you know?". Birds in Backyards. Birdlife Australia. Retrieved 2017-01-25.
  6. ^ Cocker, Mark (2012-04-15). "Unfolding the mysteries of a snipe's lovesong". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-06-07.