Saturday, September 27, 2014

Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) Shanwei shazhui

(26 cm.) Long thin bill; stripes on face; eye stripe; dark brown streaked upperparts; light brown streaked underparts; very erratic flight; noisy, calls often in alarm.

The Common Snipe is a common bird in China which is rarely seen and little known. Its lack of fame can be attributed to its elusive lifestyle and seeming complete lack of comfort in the presence of humans.

When this bird is disturbed by a human presence, it will sit motionless blending in with its surroundings with its well camouflaged plumage. If approached too closely, it will fly off making a distinctive “snape, snape” call. It flies with a strange zig-zag pattern which is a defense to confuse predators. It is usually when the bird is flying away that the human observer first has a chance to notice the bird. Only birdwatchers that are specifically looking for this bird, will ever get a chance to properly observe one.

The Common Snipe is a member of the family, “Scolopacidae”, a very large family of birds like snipes such as sandpipers, curlews, stints and tattles. All members of this family have long legs, pointed wings and long bills. Usually these birds are found on beaches, mudflats, or in shallow rivers where they use their long bills to probe for aquatic animals.

The Common Snipe’s diet consists largely of earthworms and insects which they probe for with their long bills in the marshes and bogs which constitute their favorite habitats. During migration, they can be found in city parks which offer the swampy conditions they like.

During the breeding season, the male snipe attracts a mate by flying high in the sky in a circular fashion and then diving, which produces a goat-like squeal as wind rushes through the snipe’s tail feathers. This elaborate display is called, winnowing”. The Common Snipe’s name in many languages around the world translates as “flying goat.”

The female lays four eggs in a well hidden nest on the ground. When the eggs hatch, the snipe chicks are cared for by both parents. Like other members of the Scolopacidae family, snipe chicks develop and achieve independence quickly.
Photo by Sean Breazeal

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