On the morning of March 17, a cold and snowy day here in upstate New York, a friend alerted me to the presence of a Wilson’s Snipe, feeding along the shoreline of a small pool next to a country road. I arrived about an hour later and scanned the pool for the snipe. At first I didn’t see it, but then I noticed some movement behind a clump of vegetation. In short order, the snipe walked out into the open, bobbing up-and-down like a silly toy, all the while poking its long bill into the mud in search of insect larvae and other invertebrates.
I was surprised to see the bobbing motion. I’ve watched many an American Woodcock (a relative of the snipe) bobbing up-and-down as they walk about on the ground, but I didn’t realize that the Wilson’s Snipe exhibits similar behavior, at least some of the time. It was quite laughable to watch, and I have no idea what its true purpose is (although the motion may startle prey into moving). What a funny-looking bird. One cannot help but smile when watching it dance.
To document the bobbing, I placed my video camera on a beanbag set atop the bottom edge of my open car window. He was in the open only for about a minute, disappearing a short time later behind thick vegetation. It was blustery and cold, so I rolled up my window and quickly drove home to a hot cup of tea.
The Wilson’s Snipe is named after Alexander Wilson (1766-1813), an early American ornithologist, poet and naturalist. It is a member of the shorebird family and breeds in marshes, wet meadows, and bogs across much of Canada and the northern United States.
During breeding season, the male flies overhead in the twilight of dusk and dawn, periodically swooping downward and making an eerie winnowing caused by wind rushing through its spread tail feathers. Listen for the winnowing in the following soundscape, recorded in early May of 2014 (the nasal peents and flight twitter of an American Woodcock can also be heard):
Soundscape featuring a Wilson’s Snipe aerial display (winnowing). 7 May 2014, 5:30am, near Ithaca, New York. © Lang Elliott. Listen also for calls or songs of Spring Peeper, American Woodcock, Swamp Sparrow, Green Frog, Red-winged Blackbird, and one drum of a Ruffed Grouse (near end).