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What is a Jack Snipe?

By J. Schuessler
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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The jack snipe, referred to scientifically as Lymnocryptes minimus, is a small wading bird native to parts of Europe, Asia and Africa. It is the world’s smallest snipe, and it can be distinguished from its relative, the common snipe, by its shorter bill and legs. The jack snipe is the only member of the genus Lymnocryptes, one of the three genera of the snipe family Scolopacidae.

The plumage of an adult jack snipe is mottled brown on top with a pale underside. Individuals also possess a dark eyestripe as well as yellow back stripes that can been seen when the bird is in flight. Upon close inspection, jack snipes can be identified by the two lateral, pale-colored crown stripes on their heads; other snipes possess only a single central stripe. This bird's flight pattern is slow and fluttering, lacking the zigzag pattern of the common snipe, again distinguishing it from its relative.

The preferred habitat of the jack snipe is wetland areas such as marshes, bogs, tundra and wet meadows. It can easily lie hidden in those areas, relying on its superb camouflage, and it usually will not take flight until something passes very close to its hiding place. Even then, jack snipes will usually fly only a short distance before descending again into an area of thick vegetation. For this reason, birdwatchers who are trying to catch a glimpse of a jack snipe will usually walk through their wetland habitat, hoping to pass close enough to one to startle it into flight.

This bird’s diet is varied, and insects, larvae, worms, mollusks and vegetation could be consumed. Jack snipes generally feed by probing with their bills in soft ground and mud, though they have also been observed to take food directly from the ground surface. When feeding, jack snipes walk with a distinctive bouncing motion, which makes the birds look almost as if they are walking on springs. Plant matter makes up a greater portion of their diet than that of the common snipe, allowing jack snipes to survive more easily during harsh and inclement weather.

At the start of the breeding season, the male jack snipe puts on an impressive aerial courtship display consisting of bobbing and hovering, punctuated with steep dives and rapid ascents. It also makes use of its distinctive call, which many people have likened to the sound of a galloping horse. The mating pair then nests on the ground, and the female lays a batch of three to four eggs. The entire breeding season lasts from May to early September. A migratory bird, the jack snipe commonly nests in northern Europe and Russia, migrating during the winter months to Great Britain, coastal mainland Europe, Africa and India.

The jack snipe is a common bird throughout its range, and it is estimated to have a worldwide population of 1 million birds. The size and stability of the population make it a species that is considered of low concern in terms of endangerment. As with all species that share its wetland home, however, the loss of habitat because of drainage for agriculture or peat extraction is a potential threat to the jack snipe.

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