WILSON’S SNIPE – (Gallinago delicata)
The Wilson’s snipe is a shorebird that looks similar to the American woodcock. It is well-camouflaged bird with a long, thin bill that is more than twice the length of the head. It has a plump body on short legs. Its pectoral muscles are very powerful and can propel the bird at speeds up to almost 100 km/hr (60 mph) in flight. The colors are brown mottled and striped with white for the upper parts
The Latin name means ‘resembling a hen’ and ‘delicata’ means ‘exquisite’ (not ‘delicate’). The English name is in memory of ornithologist Alexander Wilson, and ‘snipe’ refers to the bird’s long bill.
This species, like the American woodcock, feeds on insects by probing its bill up and down in the ground while walking.
The bird also has its eyes further back on the head, allowing for a larger vision field which helps avoid predators while feeding. It feeds around dawn and dusk and rests during the day. Wilson’s snipes will feign injury if their nest is threatened, trying to attract away a potential predator.
During courtship display, a winnowing sound can be heard when the bird is circling and diving. This sound originates from the tail feathers.
This species is hunted in the fall in the USA and Canada, but their numbers appear stable and they are listed as of ‘least concern’, although they are vulnerable to habitat destruction from marsh draining for example.
Wilson’s snipes breed on PEI and are common. Their breeding territory includes marshes and bogs in most of Canada and Alaska and they winter starting from the mid latitudes of the USA, southward to northern South America.
There is a practical joke called ‘going on a snipe hunt’ which serves as some kind of rite of passage in summer camps. The word ‘sniper’ has its origins from the hunting of this bird by soldiers, and eventually came to mean a concealed marksman who can shoot from a large distance.