BioKIDS home

Kids' Inquiry of Diverse Species

common snipe

Gallinago gallinago

What do they look like?

The Common Snipe is a small to medium sized wading bird. Shorter legs and neck distinguish it from other waders. It is generally 26.7 cm (10.5 inches) long, with a long, straight, slender bill about 6.4 cm (2.5 inches) long.In flight the Snipe displays the long pointed wings characteristic of wading birds. The female typically weighs about 115 grams. The male snipe is larger, generally weighing about 130 grams. The adult snipe has a brown body that is striped with black. There is black stripes across the eyes, which are set back on the head, away from the bill. The adult has a black bill, and legs that are olive in color. The female of the species is similar in coloration to the male. The down of the juvenile snipe is marbled brown and black, which provides excellent camouflage. This down is striped with black and speckled with white. The legs of the young bird are grayish, and the bill is black (Burton and Burton, 1970; Peterson, 1961; "Birds of the Great Lakes," on-line).

  • Range mass
    115 to 130 g
    4.05 to 4.58 oz

Where do they live?

The Common Snipe, Gallinago gallinago, is found throughout North America, Eurasia, South America and Africa. They spend winters in the more temperate climates of northern South America and central Africa (Peterson, 1961: Burton and Burton, 1970)

What kind of habitat do they need?

The Common Snipe can be found in open areas with enough low vegetation to provide cover. These areas include marshes, canals, stream banks, bogs, and wet meadows, and even Arctic tundra. Nests are generally a grass-lined hollows in wet meadows, or marsh (Burton and Burton, 1970; Peterson, 1961).

How do they reproduce?

The breeding season of the Common Snipe spans from the middle part of April to August. The male snipe lures females by using a distinctive technique called "drumming." Early in the breeding season, the female snipe may have many mates. As the season passes, however, the female will settle in with one mate. The eggs of the Common Snipe are olive-brown in coloration and spotted. The eggs are typically about 39 by 28 mm in size. The clutch generally consists of four eggs. Incubation lasts approximately three weeks. Parents share the responsibilities of feeding the young. The adults divide the brood in half and each adult cares for half of the chicks. This goes on for approximately two weeks, when the chicks begin to fly (Peterson, 1961; Burton and Burton, 1970, "Birds of the Great Lakes", on-line).

  • Average eggs per season
  • Average time to hatching
    19 days

How long do they live?

How do they behave?

The Common Snipe is a migratory bird. North American snipes often spend winters in South America. Eurasian snipes migrate to Africa during the colder months of the year. The flight path of the Common Snipe is characterized by an irregular or "zigzag" pattern. The courting ritual of the Common Snipe is often referred to as "drumming." The bird making a rapid descent, while slowly beating its wings, and spreading its tail feathers accomplishes this drumming. The sound produced is a distinct "drumming" noise. (Burton and Burton, 1970; Peterson, 1961).

How do they communicate with each other?

What do they eat?

The Common Snipe consumes mostly worms. However, it also feeds on insects, crustaceans, and mollusks, as well as occasional seeds and berries. The snipe feeds in the muddy shallows at the edge of lakes, streams, and ponds, or in swamp mud. The bill of the Common Snipe is specially adapted for the type of food it consumes and the habitat in which it lives. It is able to open the tip of its bill while the entire bill is underground. This unique adaption allows the bird to eat small animals without having to pull its bill out of the mud (Burton and Burton, 1970; Peterson, 1961).

Do they cause problems?

The displacement of migrating shorebirds like the Common Snipe and other animals from drained and developed wetlands threatens the economic interests of several different groups, including farmers and real estate developers. Recent laws passed to protect the displaced animals, (some of them are classified as either endangered or threatened), have disallowed many property owners from using their own land.

Are they endangered?

Human development of wetlands has displaced migrating shorebirds, including the Common Snipe. This development includes swamp drainage, farming, and canals. The result has concentrated more birds at undeveloped foraging sites, producing overpopulation and overfeeding. Research has shown however, that manmade wetlands projects can produce suitable foraging grounds, and even makes up for sites lost to development (Twedt, Nelms, Rettig, and Aycock, 1998).


Christopher Gott (author), Fresno City College, Carl Johansson (editor), Fresno City College.


"Birds of the Great Lakes" (On-line). Accessed November 2, 2000 at

Burton, D., R. Burton. 1970. Snipe. Pp. 2190-2191 in The International Wildlife Encyclopedia, Vol. 16. New York: Marshall Cavendish Corporation.

Peterson, R. 1961. A Field Guide to Western Birds. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Twedt, D., C. Nelms, V. Rettig, S. Aycock. 1998. Shorebird use of managed wetlands in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley. The American Midland Naturalist: 140-152.

University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

BioKIDS home  |  Questions?  |  Animal Diversity Web  |  Cybertracker Tools

Gott, C. 2001. "Gallinago gallinago" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed February 18, 2019 at

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
Copyright © 2002-2019, The Regents of the University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

University of Michigan