Snipe, a group of wading birds, of the subfamily scolopacinoe. It is characterized by a long, straight, slender bill, obtuse and flexible, covered with a soft, sensitive skin, abundantly supplied with nerves toward the end; the upper mandible the longest, somewhat bent down at the end, and grooved on the sides, in which the nostrils are placed; the tongue long, slender, and pointed at the end, the oesophagus narrow, and the stomach very muscular; eyes far back in the head; wings moderate and pointed; tail short and rounded; legs short, feathered lower down than in most waders; hind toe • small, elevated, but reaching the ground, the anterior long and slender, and free except in the genus macroramphus. Snipes are migratory and small, going north to breed; they frequent marshy places and the margins of rivers and ponds, where they probe the soft mud perpendicularly with the bill in search of worms, insects, and larva); the nest is a slight hollow on the ground, lined with grass and sedge, and the eggs, usually four, are placed with the pointed end inward; the young are able to leave the nest as soon as hatched; the flesh is considered a great delicacy.
The subfamily includes the genera macroramphus (Leach), gallinago (Leach), rhynchoea (Cuv.), scolopax (Linn.), and philohela (Gray), of which the last two will be noticed under Woodcock. - In macroramphus the wings are long and pointed, with the first and second quills equal; the tarsi are longer than the middle toe, which is united to the base of the outer by a short web. The species are found in Europe and North America, occurring in large flocks near the sea, feeding on small mollusks, worms, and insects; they fly rapidly and irregularly with a quivering whistle. The gray or red-breasted snipe (M. griseus, Leach) is about 10 in. long and 18 in. in alar extent, the bill 2¼ in., and weighs 3¼ oz.; the prevailing colors above are dark ashy, pale reddish, and black, with rump and upper tail coverts white; under parts pale ferruginous, with spots and bands of brownish black; the quills brownish black, the shaft of the first primary white; the young are dull white below, marked with ashy; the plumage is more gray in winter, and more red in summer.
It occurs over temperate North America, in large flocks, occasionally going inland in autumn on the return from the north, where it goes to breed; the flight is rapid and strong, accompanied by a single mellow "weet;" the call note is a whistle; the flesh is not so good as that of the common American snipe. - In gallinago the tarsus is shorter than the middle toe, and there is no web. The American or Wilson's snipe (G. Wilsonii, Bonap.) is about 10½ in. long, with an alar extent of 17 in., the bill 2½ in., and weighs 3 oz.; above the feathers are brownish black, spotted and edged with yellowish brown or ashy white; a black line from base of bill over top of head; throat and neck before reddish ashy, under parts white, quills and tail like back, the latter widely tipped with bright rufous, with a narrow subterminal black band. It occurs over temperate North America, going in summer as far as Nova Scotia, where it breeds in June in the elevated moss-covered marshes; the eggs are yellowish olive, spotted with brown; they return to the south in October, and are very fond of the rice fields; they rarely visit the seashore, and never the interior of woods; the cry resembles the syllables "wau-aik." They are fond of leeches and other food not generally coveted by man, though most epicures, ignorant of this, are in the habit of cooking and eating them, contents of intestines included.
The great or double snipe of Europe (G. major, Steph.) is 11 or 12 in. long, varied with black and bright reddish above, the red arranged longitudinally, and whitish red below; the shaft of the first quill is whitish; it inhabits N. Europe. The common snipe of Europe (G. media, Steph.) is 10 or 11 in. long, with two blackish longitudinal bands on the head, the neck spotted with brown and fawn color, the mantle blackish with two longitudinal fawn-colored bands, the wings brown waved with gray, quill shafts brown, and lower parts white waved with blackish on the flanks; it flies very high, with a shrill cry; from its wavering flight it is generally difficult to shoot; its flesh is delicious. - In rhynchoea the bill is shorter and more curved, the first three quills equal and longest, the tertials as long as the quills, and the tail very short; the species are adorned with bright yellow ocellated spots on the quills and tail; they occur at the Cape of Good Hope, in the East Indies, and Australia. The Cape snipe (R. Capensis, Cuv.) is 10 in. long, variegated with black and cinereous; around the eye, a little way down the neck, pectoral band, and abdomen, white.
Wilsons Snipe (Gallinago Wilsoni).
Common European Snipe (Gallinago media).