Snipe may have fallen off the radar of most hunters, but the promise of a challenging and exciting day afield remains
Widely distributed across Canada, snipe are found in every province and territory. You may not recognize them by sight—many people confuse them with other small, long-legged, long-billed shorebirds—but you’ll undoubtedly recognize the unique sound they make during the breeding season. I’ve heard some describe it as the “whoop, whoop, whoop” made by Curly from the Three Stooges.
That distinctive sound is produced in flight by the rush of air past the snipe’s spread tail feathers, and the quivering of its rapid wing beats. You’ll hear male snipe make the sound as they perform their aerial acrobatics—known as “winnowing”—to defend their territory and attract mates. You can expect to hear it at any time of day, but most frequently in the evenings. Note that females also winnow during the early days of the breeding season.
Snipe breed in wet meadow habitat, including sedge-dominated shorelines of lakes and large marshes, irrigated hayfields, boreal bogs and wet muskeg. They nest on the ground in dense vegetation in slight depressions lined with grass, always near water. Most often, they lay four eggs and, after a 20-day incubation period, both parents share in the rearing of the young.
By late August, snipe begin migrating south, and by the end of October, most will have departed Canada for their wintering ranges in the U.S., the Caribbean, and Central and South America.
Snipe have well-developed breast muscles that give them a plump body shape, and the strength to reach significant speeds in flight, reportedly up to 100 kilometres an hour. Couple that with their zigzag flight pattern and it’s clear why they’ve earned a reputation for being a challenge to shoot. In fact, the term “sniper” is thought to have originated from snipe hunting, in that successful hunters have to be great shots to hit these agile birds.