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 Jack Snipe - Fact File

Jack Snipe

Lymnocryptes minimus
Widespread winter visitor, generally scarce but easily overlooked.
Wet areas - damp fields, watercress beds, marshes etc..

Smaller than Snipe with shorter legs and bill. Two pairs of buff stripes on mantle. Reluctant to take flight, which id low and lacks Snipe's zig-zag action

19 cm (7½")

Jack Snipe

Smallest of snipes, the jack snipe has been declining in Norfolk in recent years. Despite ever increasing numbers of highly alert observers, records submitted to the Norfolk Bird Report are far fewer than when I began bird-watching.

During 1994 jack snipe were recorded at 36 localities in the county. Almost without exception sightings related to ones and twos.

The jack snipe favours thick marsh vegetation and is most likely to be seen when flushed. Typically it rises suddenly and in complete silence very close to the observer, flying briefly with slow and fluttering wing-beats before plunging to the ground with wings closed and only opened as a brake at the last moment.

A close approach may then be made once again, although it is very difficult to see the bird on the ground due to superb camouflage. Jack snipe are usually confined to a particular patch of fen, marsh or swamp from which individuals may be repeatedly put-up. It is on record that examples have been caught by hand and even accidentally trampled. This snipe is often solitary and inconspicuous.

On more than one occasion I have been fortunate to watch a jack snipe in the pool overlooking the Bittern Hide on Cley Marsh. Feeding behaviour was most interesting, the bird rocking its body rhythmically up and down like a woodcock and as if on springs. In early morning sunlight the plumage was highly attractive, especially the rich golden-buff mantle stripes and general purplish-green metallic gloss.

I first became familiar with jack snipe at Breydon Water. Here I possessed for several years a houseboat anchored on the edge of Duffel's Rond close to the north wall. Up to five jack snipe wintered annually on the rond. But the birds always acted independently and never took wing together.

Continental observers describe them feeding and sleeping in the same restricted area. Roost-sites are approached along regularly used winding paths. Those wintering here are doubtless from northern Scandinavia, but the breeding range extends eastwards for hundreds of miles across Russia to distant Siberia.

The mysterious jack snipe is a typical bird of the often water-logged northern taiga, birch and willow country. Here breeding grounds are shared with broad-billed sandpipers and sometimes red-necked phalaropes. During spring display the snipe bob and hover like marionettes before climbing 150 feet or more above ground to perform steep dives often rolling over with half-folded wings before zooming upwards again. And all the time one can hear calls likened to a distant galloping horse.

Michael J Seago

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Illustrations by Dave Nurney from - The Pocket Guide to the Birds Of Britain and North-West Europe By Chris Kightley and Steve Madge
© Pica Press and reproduced with kind permission.