Wilson’s Snipe

Gallinago delicata
Range Map

Until 2003, we called the Wilson’s Snipe the Common Snipe. That year, science recognised as its own species. These birds breed over much of the northern USA and to the Arctic tundra. We believe the northern Rocky Mountain states and the Pacific Northwest host these birds year-round, while most of their population migrates after breeding to the southern half of the USA, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean Islands, and sometimes to northern South America.

Today, science regards the Wilson’s Snipe as monotypic (i.e. no subspecies).

The winnowing sounds made during flight are memorable, though not a vocalization. Rather, while flying at 25 miles per hour, it is wind over the outer tail feathers that causes this sound. When Wilson’s Snipe put their minds to it, they can fly at speeds up to sixty miles per hour.

Like other shorebird species with long bills, these birds can open and close the tips of their bills while probing the mud at full depths, and consume their invertebrate prey while their buried bills are deep in the mud. Like several other shorebird species, their eyes are placed farther back on their heads, enabling them to see behind them and see predators, even when their beaks are buried deep in the mud.

I met my first Wilson’s Snipe in December 2004 while visiting the Salton Sea in southeastern California. Since then, I’ve enjoyed meetings in Montana, Wyoming, Oregon, and various California locations, including in the creeks of my Poway hometown.

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