Gallinago gallinagocommon snipe

Geographic Range

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)


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).

Physical Description

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


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



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).

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

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).

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

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.

Conservation Status

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.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

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living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

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living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

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living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

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uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


A terrestrial biome with low, shrubby or mat-like vegetation found at extremely high latitudes or elevations, near the limit of plant growth. Soils usually subject to permafrost. Plant diversity is typically low and the growing season is short.


uses sight to communicate


"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.