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Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) | by Brian Carruthers-Dublin-Eire
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Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago)



Bog Bleater, She-goat of the Air


[order] Charadriiformes | [family] Scolopacidae | [latin] Gallinago gallinago | [UK] Snipe | [FR] Bécassine des marais | [DE] Bekassine | [ES] Agachadiza Común | [IT] Beccaccino comune | [NL] Watersnip


spanwidth min.: 39 cm

spanwidth max.: 44 cm

size min.: 23 cm

size max.: 27 cm


incubation min.: 18 days

incubation max.: 20 days

fledging min.: 19 days

fledging max.: 20 days

broods 1

eggs min.: 3

eggs max.: 5


Status: Summer visitor from west Europe and west Africa, winter visitor from Faeroe Islands, Iceland and northern Scotland.


Conservation Concern: Amber-listed in Ireland due to concerns over the European population which has undergone a moderate recent decline.


Identification: A relatively common wader but not easily seen, unless flushed out of marshy vegetation, when it typically towers away in a frantic zig zag fashion. The disproportionately long, straight bill is easily visible in flight. If you are lucky enough to see one standing partially or wholly out in the open (usually at the edge of reeds), you will make out the series of dark brown, pale buff and black stripes and bars on the head and body - this produces a good camouflage effect.


Similar Species: Jack Snipe, Woodcock


Call: Flight call an abrupt "scratch..". Song includes a far-carrying "chipper, chipper…" often at night - sometimes delivered from a fence post. During display flights over the nesting territory, they make an eerie goat bleating sound - this is called drumming and it is produced by stiff feathers sticking out at the tail sides, which vibrate as the bird flies in a roller coaster pattern in the sky.


Diet: Diet consists largely of vegetable matter and seeds, and earthworms, tipulid larvae and other soil invertebrate fauna.


Breeding: Nests on the ground, usually concealed in a grassy tussock, in or near wet or boggy terrain. Young leave the nest soon after hatching.


Wintering: Highly dispersed distribution in winter. They forage across a variety of wetland and damp habitats. Particularly high concentrations are found on the fringes of lowland lakes


Where to see: Underrecorded during surveys. Shannon & Fergus Estuary in County Clare, Ballymacoda in County Cork and Tralee Bay, Lough Gill & Akeragh Lough in Kerry have supported the highest numbers (>150 birds).



Physical characteristics


Small to medium sized snipe, with rather long bill and white belly. Plumage variable, and melanistic morph occurs. Flight faster and more erratic than other snipes of similar size. Differs from very similar G. stenura, G. hardwickii and G. megala by prominent white trailing edge to wing, and supercilium narrower than eyestripe at base of bill. Sexes alike. No seasonal variation. Juvenile very similar to adult, but wing coverts more neatly fringed pale buff. Race faeroeensis darker and more rufous above, with narrower, less contrasting, back stripes. G. delicata darker than faeroeensis. Generally less rufous than nominate with heavier barring on flanks, and usually has darker underwing.




Open fresh or brackish marshland with rich or tussocky vegetation, grassy or marshy edges of lakes and rivers, wet hay fields, swampy meadows and marshy tundra, in forest tundra and extreme northern taiga zones. In general, found in areas providing combination of grassy cover and moist soils, rich in organic matter. Outside breeding season, generally occupies similar habitats, with more use of man made habitats' sewage farms and rice fields.


Other details


Gallinago gallinago is a widespread breeder across much of Europe, which accounts for less than a quarter of its global breeding range. Its European breeding population is large (>930,000 pairs), and was stable between 1970-1990. Although it remained stable in much of eastern Europe—including the key Russian population—during 1990-2000, the species suffered declines in most of the rest of Europe, and underwent a moderate decline (>10%) overall. Consequently, this previously Secure species is now provisionally evaluated as Declining.

This bird inhabits the major part of Europe, except the Mediterranean regions, northern Asia and North America. European populations winter in Europe, vacating areas with severe frost, and in sub-Saharan Africa. The population of the European Union is estimated at about 100000 breeding pairs, the total European population at about 900000 breeding pairs, Russia not included. In many regions this species is declining, following wetland reclamation and changing management in the remaining wetlands




Larval and adult insects, earthworms, small crustaceans, small gastropods and spiders. Plant fibres and seeds consumed in smaller quantities. Feeds by vertical, rhythmic probing in substrate, often without removing bill from soil. Feeds typically in small groups, essentially crepuscular.


Egg laying from April to June, pair bond monogamous, but both sexes show high degree of promiscuity. very territorial. Nest usually on dry spot, covered by grasses, rushes, sedges or sphagnum. 4 eggs, incubation 17-20 days, by female alone. Chicks are mahogany red, moe hazel brown or tawny on sides of head and underparts, with black and white bands on head. Both parents care for young, but male entices oldest 1 or 2 from nest to tend.




Largely migratory, but partially migratory to resident in western maritime countries of Europe. Small numbers winter in Iceland, Faeroes, western Norway, Denmark, and western Germany (more in mild seasons), but main Old World winter range extends from British Isles and Low Countries to Iberia and Maghreb, thence eastwards through Mediterranean basin, Middle East, and southern Asia. Also winters in large numbers in Africa south of Sahara; oasis and Sahel observations indicate broad-front crossings of Sahara. Birds of the migratory North American race, G. g. delicata, have straggled to Britain in autumn. Autumn passage of Fenno-Scandian populations starts July; peak numbers in Denmark and Netherlands September-October, and all in wintering areas in November. Spring migration starts March (perhaps February in Iberia), and breeding grounds reoccupied April-May.


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Taken on January 11, 2018