If you like your birds small, round, with an extravagant bill and beautiful plumage, then this weeks’ Monday Bird of the Week is for you. It is the Snipe.
It was a long while into my nature-spotting life before I first saw a Snipe. This was circumstantial as much as anything, I just wasn’t where they were. But in recent years at sites like Blacktoft Sands and North Cave Wetlands I’ve seen plenty, and at pretty close quarters. They really are stunning birds. Much smaller than I always assumed, something about pictures always making them seem Woodcock-sized. But actually they are pretty dinky, as this photo with Coot for scale shows.
Their second most distinctive feature is one designed by evolution to hide them away, that lovely cryptically-camouflaged colouring. But their most distinctive is the jousting lance on the front of their heads. Their bills can add a third again to the overall length of the bird.
But it’s not for fighting, it’s for feeding, allowing the bird to probe deep into the mud for worms and other invertebrates that make up their primary diet.
Rather tragically, game shooters consider Snipe a great challenge and therefore a great challenge. This means that a bird that is in moderate decline, and steep decline in certain locations, is still legally shot in the UK every year.