Wilson's Snipe - A Feathered Phantom

The Wilson's Snipe

The reclusive Wilson’s snipe lives in North America but you'd be lucky to ever lay eyes on one. Because of his secretive nature, he’s most active around dusk and dawn while preferring to sleep much of the daytime.

When he's awake this plump, little shorebird uses his long, flexible bill to probe in the mud for larvae and earthworms. His unique mandible can move independently upwards allowing him to swallow small prey without having to pull his bill out of the dirt.

The Wilson’s snipe is mottled brown overall with a white belly and streaked breast. Dark stripes decorate his head and back. He makes his nest in the wetlands where his drab plumage blends perfectly into the dried, cattail willows.

His bill is outrageously long and his eyes are set so far back on his head that he can see not only in front and to the sides but also completely behind. He has short legs and massive flight muscles so when he’s flushed from his safe haven he can explode into the air at 60 miles per hour.

The Wilson’s snipe is a feathered phantom and during the breeding season his ghostly persona is further enhanced by a nighttime, courtship display. He circles high above his marshland territory and then suddenly dives straight towards the ground.

This spectacular, aerial maneuver creates a “winnowing” effect that vibrates in the wind creating an eerie sound. Scientists have discovered that this noise occurs when air streams across the bird’s specially designed outer tail feathers.

You may not be able to see this apparition during spring daylight but if you’re in the foothills after dark, keep your ears open because that’s when you’ll hear this common snipe’s haunting notes emanating through the thin, mountain air.

Active around dusk and dawn

A feathered phantom

A ghostly persona

You'd be lucky to see one

Eyes are set back on his head

A plump shorebird

An apparition

An outrageously long bill


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