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Long-legged bird with long bill wading in marsh or mudflat
Pin-tailed snipe (Gallinago stenura)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Charadriiformes
Family: Scolopacidae

A snipe is any of about 26 wading bird species in three genera in the family Scolopacidae. They are characterized by a very long, slender bill and crypsis, or camouflage, plumage. The Gallinago snipes have a nearly worldwide distribution, the Lymnocryptes snipe is restricted to Asia and Europe and the Coenocorypha snipes are found only in the outlying islands of New Zealand. The three species of painted snipe are not closely related to the typical snipes, and are placed in their own family, the Rostratulidae.


Snipes search for invertebrates in the mud with a "sewing-machine" action of their long bills. The sensitivity of the bill is caused by filaments belonging to the fifth pair of nerves, which run almost to the tip and open immediately under the soft cuticle in a series of cells. A similar adaptation is found in sandpipers. They give this portion of the surface of the premaxillaries a honeycomb-like appearance. Through these filaments the bird can sense its food in the mud without seeing it.[1]

As part of its courtship display flight, the snipe produces a drumming sound, also called bleating or winnowing. 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.[2]


Snipes feed mainly on insect larva. Snipes also eat actual fly such as crane, horse and deer fly as well as beetle, dragonfly, cricket, grasshopper, ant, mayfly, butterfly, caddisfly and moth. Other invertebrate prey include snail, crustacean, and worm. The snipe's bill allows the very tip to remain closed while the snipe slurps up invertebrates.[3]


Snipes can be found in various types of wet marshy settings including bogs and swamps, wet meadows, and along rivers and ponds. Snipes avoid settling in areas with dense vegetation, but rather seek marshy areas with patchy cover to hide from predators.[3]


The female snipe makes a shallow hole in moist soil, and then weaves a grass lining to build a nest up to 7 inches across and 3 inches deep. A normal clutch size is 2–4 eggs, with an incubation period of 18–20 days. A snipe's eggs are typically an earthy brown colour with occasional blots of brown, black, or purple. Snipe chicks will usually leave the nest upon the first day of hatching.[3]


Painting of a kneeling hunter shooting at a group of birds flying above a marsh
Depiction of a snipe hunter, by A. B. Frost

Camouflage may enable snipe to remain undetected by hunters in marshland. If the snipe flies, hunters have difficulty wing-shooting due to the bird's erratic flight pattern. The difficulties involved in hunting snipes gave rise to the term sniper, meaning a hunter highly skilled in marksmanship and camouflaging, which later evolved to mean a sharpshooter or someone who shoots from a concealed location.[4][5]

"Going on a snipe hunt" is a phrase suggesting a fool's errand, or an impossible task.[citation needed] As an American rite of passage, it is often associated with summer camps and groups such as the Boy Scouts.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainNewton, Alfred (1911). "Snipe". In Chisholm, Hugh. Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  2. ^ 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. 
  3. ^ a b c "Wilson's Snipe, Life History, All About Birds - Cornell Lab of Ornithology". 
  4. ^ "sniper (n.)". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 7 January 2017. 
  5. ^ Palmatier, Robert Allen (1995). Speaking of Animals: A Dictionary of Animal Metaphors. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing. p. 357. ISBN 0313294909. 
  6. ^ Fee, Christopher R.; Webb, Jeffrey B., eds. (2016). American myths, legends, and tall tales : an encyclopedia of American folklore. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO. p. 514. ISBN 9781610695671. 

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