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Animal Fact File: Common Snipe

Name: Common snipe

Scientific Name: Gallinago gallinago

Description: The common snipe is a small, stocky wader, with short legs and long straight bills. It is a migratory bird, but there are also 80,000 breeding pairs which are resident to the UK.

A common snipe looking for food

Species: The common snipe is a snipe wading bird, characterised by the long slender bills and camouflage plumage. Gallinago snipes have a worldwide distribution, with common snipes being the most widespread. The common snipe has two subspecies: the Gallinago faeroeensis found in Iceland, the Faroes, Shetland and Orkney, which winter in Britain and Ireland, and Gallinago gallinago in the rest of the Old World.

Colouring: Adult common snipes have a mottled brown colouring, with yellow stripes on top and a pale underside. There is a dark stripe through the eye, with lighter stripes above and below. Their long beak is black or brown in colour.

Length: 23-28cm

Wingspan: 39-45cm

Habitat: The common snipes’ natural habitat includes farmland and grassland, and being a wading bird, marine and tidal estuaries and wetland. They avoid dense vegetation, seeking marshy areas with patchy cover. It is a shy bird, concealing itself in the ground vegetation.

Diet: Common snipes feed mainly on invertebrates such as insect larvae and worms. They may also feed on crustacea and snails. They feed mostly at dawn and dusk.

Breeding: Common snipe’s nesting season runs from mid-April to August, with a pair raising one brood, usually about four eggs which are olive-brown and spotted. Both parents will watch over and feed the chicks until they are ready to fledge.

Lifespan: 8-9 years.

Flight Speed: 55mph

Other Facts:

  • A male common snipe makes a distinctive drumming sound to attract females on early spring mornings, a sound made by beating their outer tail feathers and wings.
  • Common snipes are monogamous, so one male will mate with one female each year, and reach reproductive age after one year.
  • They are territorial birds, building grass-lined nests on dry ground within marshes, swamps or fens.
  • As they are migratory birds, common snipes in northern Eurasia will fly south towards Africa; the UK receives around one million wintering common snipes.
  • Common snipes will communicate through a loud, long series of calls which sounds like ‘chik-kot’ which are usually heard in at dusk or dawn when they are most active.
  • Old folk names for the common snipe include “mire snipe”, “horse gowk” and “heather bleat”.
  • The American saying, “going on a snipe hunt” suggests going on a fool’s errand.
  • Common snipe’s most common predators include the red fox, carrion crow and stoats.
  • For shooting, common snipes are considered a tricky target as they are small and will zig-zag when they take to the wing, making them hard to track.
  • The best advice is to wait for them to stop zigzagging, and the bird will usually take a straighter flight path.

Do you enjoy shooting common snipe in the winter months? We’d love to know some of your stories – why not leave a comment on our social media? In the meantime, update your shooting wardrobe with one of our tweed shooting jackets, and have a read of some of our game bird animal fact files such as red grouse and ptarmigan