Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Mr. Wilson's Snipe

Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Wilson's snipe near Woodworth, ND.

Did you ever get sent on a snipe hunt as a kid? You'd get handed a stick, a burlap bag and told to walk quietly through the woods because, after all, snipe are among the wariest of creatures.

If you want to go on a snipe hunt these days, I suggest heading out to the prairie potholes region of North Dakota where there's snipe aplenty. Stand by a marsh or slough in the morning and you're almost guaranteed to hear the woooo-woooo-woooo sound of winnowing snipe performing their courtship flights overhead. Snipe produce this sound by channeling the wind (as they fly) over specially adapted tail feathers. They often fly so high that you can hear but not see them performing. It's an eerie sound that confuses many a prairie sojourner.

This species was formerly called common snipe, but to separate the North American snipe from those pesky Eurasian snipe (snipes? snape?) ours is now known as the Wilson's snipe. The name Wilson is for Alexander Wilson, a Scottish ornithologist who discovered and named many North American birds during his time here between 1794 and 1813. He was a contemporary (and some would say, rival) of John James Audubon. Other birds named for Al Wilson include a plover, a warbler, a storm-petrel, and a phalarope.

But if you want to see Al W's snipe (and who wouldn't?) get thee to North Dakota, laddie.


On June 11, 2008 at 8:37 PM LauraHinNJ said...

Hey! It was neat to meet you in ND!

Snipe are great birds... I'd never heard that winowing they do before and was pretty confused by it the first time I heard it. I was looking everywhere for whatever it was that was making that sound - finally it occurred to me to look UP! Silly.

On June 12, 2008 at 3:15 AM entoto said...

We have Wilson's snipe aplenty here, too. Except, at my house you have to look down. As in down the slope, to the marshy spots. Their sound is so interesting. We also have an owl that sounds exceedingly similar, except for the dopler effect that goes with the snipe.

On June 12, 2008 at 6:38 AM Jayne said...

Funny looking little bird! Never have seen one.

On June 12, 2008 at 7:14 AM Kathi said...

STOP writing such wonderful posts about how great the Potholes and Prairies festival was! I am still totally bummed that I couldn't go, and every time I read about it, I am more jealous.

OK, that rant being over, keep up the great posts about ND, and I will hope to see you all there next year.


On June 12, 2008 at 9:41 PM RuthieJ said...

When my parents moved to Minnesota (from Chicago) in 1961, the 'locals' thought it would be a hoot to take them on a "snipe hunt." Small town weirdness--my Mom still talks about it occasionally (I don't think she saw the humor at that time!)

On June 14, 2008 at 1:20 AM Susan Gets Native said...

Snipe hunt.
My brother once stuck me in a tree at night with a flashlight and a paper bag and told me to look for a small, gray furry animal...that would be the snipe.
What a dork.
He's not a birder......