By Kathleen Kalina
A 20 gauge swings in circles after the fowl flies erratically in circles and back to its origin. The dog is loosed to find the camouflage bird the size of a dove. Your knee high boots are the only thing keeping you dry in the muddy marsh….
Few people seem to know about the snipe hunt. It is a small marsh bird equaling that of a dove. The snipe (Galinago galinago) has excellent camouflage in the marsh and known for its circular and erratic flight that makes the aim of the hunter a challenge.
Snipe have a long bill that they use to dig for invertebrates jabbing at the mud like a sewing machine. Filaments in the bill give snipe excellent sensitivity as a fifth pair of nerves. The bill is 1/5 the size of the length of the body. Snipe eyes are set back of the head so that it has front and back vision.
The wingspan is 16-18 inches, while the body is 10-12 inches. The weight is only 2/8-5 ounces, somewhat equal to a dove. A 20 gauge shotgun with 7 or 8 shot shells is recommended for these small birds.
Many researchers have observed the snipe vocalizing prior to rain. Folk lore gives credibility to the snipe for predicting rain.
Nests are built on the ground under overhanging vegetation near water but dry and elevated. The females scrape depressions for the nest, molding it to be the size of its body. The female adds grasses and sedge leaves. Clutches of 4 eggs are typically born after 19-20 days. They are able to fly at 15 days post hatch.
The male vibrates his tail feathers making a pulsating woo-woo sound while in flight. An alarm call can be a nasal sounding screech.
The snipe can swim and dive, but rarely do. They rarely fly over large bodies of water, sticking to the marsh where its camouflage protects him.
In the winter the snipe migrates to central America or Columbia, They arrive back into the US in late March. Males arrive 10 days earlier than females.
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