Wilson’s Snipe

This week for Flora and Fauna Friday it’s a wily freshwater shorebird that many believe is make-believe, the Wilson’s Snipe (Gallinago delicata).

I’m sure many of you have tales of taking part in a “snipe hunt”, some incomprehensible campground ritual you practiced in good faith which quickly turned out to be a carefully crafted fool’s errand, all for entertainment at your expense. A made-up method for locating a made-up creature. Well, I’m here to tell you that Snipe really do exist! They’re just a lot easier to find then you may have been lead to believe.

The Wilson’s Snipe is our only species of Snipe found in South Carolina. It’s a medium-sized shorebird at about the size of a Quail. In appearance they look like an amalgamation of a Woodcock and a Dowitcher, with a long bill, large eyes, yellow legs, round body, streaked flanks, and cryptically colored plumage of browns, orange, white and black. Snipe are difficult birds to sneak up on but otherwise not that hard to find. They are common here in winter along wet fields, marshes, impoundments, and pond edges. They prefer freshwater habitat but will also pop up on brackish fringes. Snipe use their long bill to probe wet soil for insects and invertebrates, which they pluck out and eat. As alluded, Snipe are very stealthy and difficult to see due to their camouflage, general motionlessness, and crepuscular behavior. Normally, one doesn’t find them until they explode upward from the edge of a dike or drainage ditch, darting back and forth midflight before spiraling into the air on their powerful wings. However, if your eyes are keen and your motion slow, you can sometimes catch a glimpse of them between the reeds or corn stubble. Snipe are actually a game bird in South Carolina too, so one can go on a true Snipe Hunt, without the practical jokes, if they are so inclined.

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