Gallinago gallinagocommon snipe

Geographic Range

Common snipes (Gallinago gallinago) are found primarily throughout Europe, but their range extends south through the southern part of Asia and as far as central Africa. They migrate and spend their winters in the more warmer climates of central Africa. Common snipes are residents in Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Their breeding locations are in almost all of Europe and Asia, extending as far west as Norway through as far east as the Sea of Okhotsk, and as far south as central Mongolia. They are also found breeding along the outside coast of Iceland. When they are not breeding they are located in India, along the coasts of Saudi Arabia, along the northern part of the Sahara, the west side of Turkey,and the mid-Africa area starting as far west as Mauritania to as far east to the horn of Africa (Ethiopia), continuing as far south as Zambia. (BirdLife International, 2017; Myers, 1983)


Common snipes are migratory birds. Common snipes are only found in freshwater wetlands; they feed in marshes, streams, banks, bogs, and wet meadows. They nest on drier, grassy un-flooded meadows close to their feeding sites. During their breeding season, common snipes are around the open freshwater or brackish marshlands, swampy meadows, and marshy tundra, where vegetation is rich. Their habitat choices in the non-breeding season are similar to those in the breeding season. They also inhabit anthropogenic habitats like sewage farms and rice fields, and elevated lands on the estuaries and the coast of meadows. elevations have not been fully reported, but many of these sites are at sea level (0 m). (BirdLife International, 2017)

  • Range elevation
    0 (low) m
    0.00 (low) ft

Physical Description

Common snipes are wading birds with their short legs and short neck. Their bills (6.4 cm), which are used for probing for their food, are about twice the size of their heads. Male snipes weigh an average of 130 grams, while females are smaller, weighing in the range of 78-110 grams. Common snipes have a wingspan between 39-45 cm, and an average body length of 26.7 cm (range 23-28 cm).

Common snipes as juveniles are black and/or brown patterned with yellow tinted stripes down their dorsal sides with white ventral feathering. As common snipes grow out of the juvenile stage, they lose their yellow tint and are brown with black stripes, and white ventral feathers. (Burton and Burton, 1970)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    78 to 130 g
    2.75 to 4.58 oz
  • Range length
    23 to 28 cm
    9.06 to 11.02 in
  • Average length
    26.7 cm
    10.51 in
  • Range wingspan
    39 to 45 cm
    15.35 to 17.72 in


Common snipes are monogamous, meaning that one male mates with one female each year. Males can be classified as dominant, subdominant, or subordinate. The difference between subdominant and subordinate is subordinate is secondary sexual characteristics that outline the dominant group. Females typically chose to mate with dominant males that hold the highest quality territories called central territories where they are located at the center of their main habitat. Females choose males based on males’ drumming abilities. Drumming is the method of wind and their outer tail feathers making a unique, species-specific sound. (Hoglund and Robertson, 1990)

Common snipes' breeding season is from early June until mid-July. They tend to nest in camouflaged vegetation areas, next to swamps and marshes that they forage. Common snipes lay 4 eggs, which are a olive-color with dark brown patches. Their incubation period last for about 18-21 days. Once eggs hatch, the young fledge in 10 to 20 days. At this point, the young leave the nest and take their first flight. Male and female common snipes reach reproductive maturity after 1 year. (Green, et al., 1990; Hayo, et al., 1996)

  • Breeding interval
    once a year
  • Breeding season
    early June to mid- July
  • Average eggs per season
  • Average eggs per season
  • Range time to hatching
    18 to 21 days
  • Average time to hatching
    19 days
  • Range fledging age
    10 to 20 days
  • Range time to independence
    10 to 20 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 years

During incubation period, males are less involved with the eggs than the females. Once a female has laid her eggs, she spends most of her time incubating her eggs, which lasts about 18 to 21 days, while male snipes spend no time incubating eggs. During the daylight hours though, females don't spend as much time on their nest as they do at night, mainly because of the temperature conditions being colder at night. After the eggs hatch male and females both have equal involvement, each taking care of two hatchlings, until they leave the nest. (BirdLife International, 2017; Hayo, et al., 1996)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female


The longest known lifespan for common snipes is 18.2 years in the wild, and no average lifespans have been listed for these birds. They are not kept in captivity. (Fransson, et al., 2010)


Common snipes are migratory birds, that can be found thoughout Eurasia during the warmer months and migrating southward towards Africa in the colder months. They are diurnal, where they are active during the day and residing on the ground. Common snipes are nomadic, moving though a large range all year round. Their breeding behavior involves having a hierarchy, where both male and female perform in display fights and drumming, a wind and feather combination to find a partner. Females are less likely to drum, whereas it is more common in males to do so.

Depending on distance from nests to foraging sites, females can walk or fly between the two. Green et al. (1990) reported that those bird that fed within 70m of their nesting sites walked, while those greater than 70m from foraging sites flew back and forth. (BirdLife International, 2017; Green, 1991; Green, et al., 1990)

Home Range

Green at al. (1990) recorded female movements during the nesting season. They found females moved 17-390m away from their nesting sites in order to forage. However, home ranges were no calculated. (Green, et al., 1990)

Communication and Perception

Common snipes (male and female) make calls that are a long series a long series of what sounds like chik-kot which is commonly very loud. Male and female common snipes are usually involved in courtship display fights during breeding season, around dusk and dawn and make a drumming sound with their feathers. Common snipes make this loud drumming sound when they fly down towards the ground and the wind blows through their outer tail feathers, making a wind-feather combination. (Casteren, et al., 2010)

Food Habits

Common snipes will find most of their food in muddy shallows, within about 370m of their nests. The snipes probe in wet soil to locate most of their diet, which consists of invertebrates. Though the months of April-August, when soil is consistently soft enough to probe, the common snipes diet will consist of mainly earthworms and insect larvae. Common snipes' bills are specially made to adapt to this type of feeding. Their eating routine thoughout the year incorporates 10–80% of the following: larval earthworms, adult insects, smaller insects, small gastropods and arachnids. Plant strands and seeds are consumed in smaller amounts.

Hoodless et al. (2003) investigated snipe diet from April-June in Northumberland, U.K. Based on 29 fecal samples,the authors report that the majority of the diet consisted of earthworms (61% of diet by dry mass), cranefly larvae (24%), land snails and slugs (3.9%), and butterfly and moth larvae (3.7%). Other taxonomic groups making less than 2% of the diet include non-biting midges (1.5%), adult beetles (1.1%), rove beetles (1%), beetle larvae (0.6%), and spiders (0.6%). (BirdLife International, 2017; Green, et al., 1990; Hoodless, et al., 2007)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • mollusks
  • terrestrial worms
  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit


Common snipes are hunted for food and sport. In most of Europe, the annual estimation for hunted snipes averages to about 1,500,000, making humans Homo sapiens a predator.

An 8-year field study in northern England watched changes in the abundance of five ground-nesting birds, including common snipes. Fletcher et al. (2010) found that the red fox Vulpes vulpes, carrion crow Corvus corone, and ermine Mustela erminea are known predators of snipes. (BirdLife International, 2017; Fletcher, et al., 2010)

Ecosystem Roles

Parasites include blood parasites like protozoans Haemoproteus and Plasmodium. Those in the genus Haemoproteus are common in most birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Plasmodium can infect birds, reptiles, rodents, and humans, where it causes malaria in their host. (Ashfordt, et al., 1976)

Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • Protozoans (Haemoproteus)
  • Protozoans (Plasmodium)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The common snipes have a positive economic importance because they are a game species for humans, who hunt them for food. (BirdLife International, 2017)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no know adverse effects of the common snipe on humans.

Conservation Status

According to The IUCN Red List, common snipe populations are declining, but they are still a species of "Least concern." The US Migratory Bird Act, the US Federal List, CITES, and the State of Michigan List, have no special status concerning the conservation of common snipes.

Common snipe threats are mainly due to the lack of water because of drainage and habitat change; this will cause a shortage of food for the snipes. Further, the hunting and removal of an estimated 1,500,000 birds hunted yearly is a threat.

The conservation actions that are underway for the common snipes are only included for the European scope, where they have been listed on Annex II and III of the EU Birds Directive. Annex II is when certain species can be hunted within set seasons. The hunting season for common snipes is outside of breeding season. Annex III listings address when humans are directly destructive and threaten the birds. Conservation actions that are proposed include the cessation of draining valuable wetlands, and the preservation or restoration of grasslands that abut the wetlands. (BirdLife International, 2017)


Cheyenne Mccleese (author), Radford University, Alex Atwood (editor), Radford University, Layne DiBuono (editor), Radford University, Lindsey Lee (editor), Radford University, Karen Powers (editor), Radford University, Joshua Turner (editor), Radford University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



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

World Map


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

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

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.


a wetland area rich in accumulated plant material and with acidic soils surrounding a body of open water. Bogs have a flora dominated by sedges, heaths, and sphagnum.

brackish water

areas with salty water, usually in coastal marshes and estuaries.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
dominance hierarchies

ranking system or pecking order among members of a long-term social group, where dominance status affects access to resources or mates


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.


an area where a freshwater river meets the ocean and tidal influences result in fluctuations in salinity.


union of egg and spermatozoan


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


mainly lives in water that is not salty.


an animal that mainly eats fruit


an animal that mainly eats seeds


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


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).


marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


eats mollusks, members of Phylum Mollusca


Having one mate at a time.


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.


generally wanders from place to place, usually within a well-defined range.


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map


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

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


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


a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.


uses touch to communicate


Living on the ground.

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


Ashfordt, R., T. Palmer, J. Ashr, S. Bray. 1976. Blood parasites of Ethiopian birds 1. General survey. Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 12/3: 409-426.

BirdLife International, 2017. "Gallinago gallinago (amended version of 2016 assessment)" (On-line). The IUCN Red List Of Threatened Species 2017 e.T22693097A112408254. Accessed February 01, 2018 at

Burton, M., R. Burton. 1970. The International Wildlife Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Marshall Cavendish Corporation.

Casteren, A., J. Codd, J. Gardiner, H. McGhie, A. Ennos. 2010. Sonation in the male common snipe (Capella gallinago gallinago L.) is achieved by a flag-like fluttering of their tail feathers and consequent vortex shredding. Journal of Experimental Biology, 10/1242: 1602-1608.

Cramp, S., K. Simmons. 1992. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the middle East and north Africa. The Birds of the Western Paleartic, 6: 31.

Fletcher, K., N. Aebischer, D. Baines, R. Foster, A. Hoodless. 2010. Changes in breeding sucess and abudance of ground-nesting moorland birds in relation to the experimental deployment of legal predator control. Journal of Applied Ecology, 47/2: 263-272.

Fransson, T., T. Kolehmainen, C. Kroon, L. Jansson, T. Wenninger. 2010. "EURING list of longevity records for European birds" (On-line). Accessed March 22, 2018 at

Green, R. 1988. Effects of environmental factors on the timing and success of breeding of common snipe Gallinago gallinago. Journal of Applied Ecology, 25: 79-93.

Green, R. 1985. Estimating the abundance of breeding snipe. Bird Study, 32: 141-149.

Green, R. 1991. Sex differences in the behavior and measurements of common snipes Gallinago gallinago breeding in Cambridgeshire, England. Ringing and Migration, 12/2: 57-60.

Green, R., G. Hirons, B. Cresswell. 1990. Foraging habitats of female common snipe Gallinago gallinago during the incubation period. Journal of Applied Ecology, 27: 325-335.

Hayo, J., A. Elliott, J. Sargatal. 1996. Handbook of Birds of The World. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions.

Henderson, I., A. Wilson, D. Steele, J. Vickery. 2002. Population estimates, trends and habitat associations of breeding lapwing Vanellus vanellus, curlew Numenius arquata and the snipe Gallinago gallinago in northern Ireland 1999. Bird Study, 49/1: 17-25.

Hoglund, J., J. Robertson. 1990. Female preferences, male decision rules and the evolution of leks in the great snipe Gallinago media. Animal Behaviour, 40/1: 15-22.

Hoodless, A., J. Ewald, D. Baines. 2007. Habitat use and diet of common snipe Gallinago gallinago breeding on moorland in northern England. Bird Study, 54/2: 182-191.

Hoodless, A., J. Inglis, D. Baines. 2006. Effects of weather and timing on counts of breeding snipe Gallinago gallinago. Bird Study, 53/3: 205-212.

Mason, C., S. Macdonald. 1976. Aspects Of the breeding biology of the snipe. Bird Study, 23/1: 33-38.

Minias, P., K. Kaczmarek, R. Wlodarczyk, T. Janiszewski. 2013. Wing shape influences stopover strategies in the migratory shorebird, the common snipe. The Condor, 115/3: 535-542.

Myers, J. 1983. Conservation of migrating shorebirds, staging areas, geographic bottlenecks, and regional movements. Migration and Conservation, 37: 23-25.

Williamson, K. 1960. The development of young snipe studied by misnetting. Bird Study, 7/2: 63-76.

Wilson, A., J. Vickery, A. Brown, R. Langston, S. Smallshire, S. Wotton, d. Vanhinsbergh. 2005. Changes in the numbers of breeding waders on lowland wet grasslands in England and Wales between 1982 and 2002. Bird Study, 52/1: 55-69.