Friday, February 15, 2013

Jack Snipe study.

Recently, when the weather has permitted, I have been trudging around suitable local habitat looking for Jack Snipe. I know that they are around but they are not always easy to locate. Common Snipe, too, have been thin on the ground. I've had a couple of birds shoot out of the vegetation but the pointy wings, white trailing edge to the wing, characteristic zig-zag flight and silly squeaky noise all point to definite Common Snipe. I was explaining to a mate that Jack Snipe have a different flight when flushed and that they only flush when almost crushed under a welly when he asked what was the best ID feature when they are on the ground. Having a few O.K. photos of Jack Snipe I thought I'd use them to try a little ID feature to help.
This first photo of a Jack Snipe's head shows the quite detailed head pattern. There is an obvious split supercilium i.e. two buff lines bisected by a rich brown line above the eye. Common Snipe lacks this feature as you can see in  photos 2 and 4. There is also a brown crescent running under the eye of the Jack Snipe which meets the brown eye-stripe behind the eye. If you look at photo 4 you can see that the brown mark under the eye of Common Snipe is obvious but does not extend upwards behind the eye.

Jack Snipe Lymnocryptes minimus showing deep based bill and head patterning

Snipe Gallinago gallinago showing the pale median crown stripe
Some guide books suggest that Jack Snipe has a dark loral patch but I think that Common Snipe also has a dark loral patch so this is not much use as an identification point in the field. What is striking is the green glossy back and the obviously straw-yellow tramlines of the Jack Snipe which can be seen well in these photos. The Common Snipe has whitish stripes on a more subdued brown mottled back.
Jack Snipe Lymnocryptes minimus showing the all dark crown without median crown stripe.
These two pictures show the difference in the length of the bills. The Common Snipe has a very, very long bill that, to me, always looks a bit unwieldy whereas the bill of the Jack Snipe looks a lot more sensible as it is much shorter and thicker at the base. Both of the pictures of Common Snipe show that the breast and the flanks are quite heavily barred. The Jack Snipe shows streaking in these areas but you can't see this in these photos as the bird stubbornly refused to turn around!

The famous bobbing-up-and-down feeding action of the Jack Snipe is not much use if the bird you see is not feeding and to be honest I've never seen one feeding, they are always flying away or pretending to be totally invisible in the vegetation.
Back to that flushed flight...if it takes off silently from under your boot, frightens the bezeesus out of you, has a very pointed tail and then shoots back into the vegetation not too far away it's almost certainly a Jack Snipe. On the other hand if it's flight is really erraitic, it squeaks and zooms off over the horizon chances are it was a Common Snipe.


  1. You got some awesome Images there Andy, wondering what Equipment you use? Thinking of adding your blog to my fave blogs page on my site!
    All the Best
    = Phillip

    1. I use Canon gear Phillip. Bodies are 5D and 1Ds Mk III, lenses are 100-400mm f4-f5.6, 400mm f5.6, 600mm f4, 70-200mm f2.8. In the past my lens of choice has been the 100-400mm zoom but I have fallen out with it lately and I now use the 400mm f5.6 prime; it's a lot sharper, does not have the faff of the IS system and does not chuck dust all over the sensors. Thanks for the comment on the images.