Vancouver Avian Research Centre

.....Research - Conservation - Education
 Species: Wilson’s Snipe Gallinago delicata


The Wilson’s Snipe is one of the most abundant and widespread shorebirds of North America. It is found in wet, grassy habitats and along shorelines. However, it is an elusive species and the usual view of Gallinago delicata is as it flushes from grass or sedges, escaping in rapid, zigzag flight while uttering a rasping ‘scaipe’. It breeds through most of Canada and the northern United States. It winters from southern Alaska and Massachusetts south to northern South America.


General: A cryptically patterned, medium-sized shorebird. Very stocky, short-winged and short-legged. Often crouches low to the ground. Long billed with boldly striped back and head. Length 25-28 cm, wing span 43-48 cm, weight 79-146 g.

Adult Male: Dark brownish overall, with bold cream-coloured stripes on back and head. Dark under wing, white belly and heavily barred flanks. Very long, straight bill.

Adult Female: Sexes are outwardly similar.

Similar Species: Smaller and chunkier than dowitchers, with shorter wings, tail, and legs but with a larger head. This Snipe also has darker under wings and exhibits more twisting in flight than dowitchers. G. delicata is closely related to the American Woodcock and is about the same size but less stocky, more streaked with a longer bill.

Behaviour: Snipe probe in soil and mud frequently sticking their entire bill and sometimes their head under water. They swallow small items without withdrawing its bill. Snipe feed both day and night but are primarily crepuscular and are regularly seen flying to and from foraging areas at dawn and dusk. They eat larval insects, worms, crustaceans, mollusks, some vegetation and seeds.

The hollow, low whistled sound called “winnowing” is used by the male to defend his territory and attract a mate. It is not a vocal sound, but rather is produced by air flowing over the outstretched tail feathers with each wing beat. The outer tail feathers are greatly modified to produce the sound and are thin and curved. During the display flight the bird flies in wide circles at about 152m or more, then periodically dives at a 45 degree angle and “winnows”.

Habitat: This is an elusive and generally secretive species using its camouflaged plumage and vegetative cover to hide from predators. It forages in marshes, wet meadows, wet fields, and the marshy edges of streams and ditches and often is not seen until flushed.


The Wilson’s Snipe was recently recognized as a different species from the Common Snipe of Eurasia (G. gallinago). The two snipes look extremely similar, but differ in both winnowing display sounds and morphology allowing full specific status for the two species.

The long bill of the Wilson’s Snipe is flexible. The tips can be opened and closed with no movement at the base of the bill. Sensory pits at the tip of the bill, a character shared with other sandpipers, allow the snipe to feel its prey deep in the mud. The eyes of the snipe are set remarkably far back on its head, providing full vision to both sides and a binocular overlap to the rear. This arrangement enables a bird to detect the approach of a predator while its beak is fully buried in the substrate.

The snipe is typically seen singly or in small flocks of a dozen or more. Sometimes it gathers in larger numbers in prime habitat. Juveniles tend to gather in loose aggregations of up to 100 at age six weeks.

The nest is a neat, woven cup of grasses placed on the ground, often in a hummock of grass close to or surrounded by water. The clutch size is almost always four eggs either dark or pale brown with dark spots. The male snipe takes the first two chicks to hatch and leaves the nest with them. The female takes the last two and cares for them. Apparently the parents have no contact after that point.

Conservation Status:

Least concern. Common and widespread, but harder to see than other shorebirds.

Capture Rates

Although consistently seen in the park, Wilson's Snipe are not commonly captured preferring to stick to the more open and wet grassland areas surrounding the banding station. The graph reflects capture of two individuals in October of 2011. Capture rates are standardized as birds captured per 100 net hours from 2010 - 2012.

Home | About UsEducationResearch| Volunteer | About Birds | Gallery

Copyright © 2008-2017 VARC - Designed by Derek Matthews. Administration by Mark Habdas