Wendy Paulson’s Birds of Barrington | Wilson’s Snipe

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Wilson's Snipe

It’s snipe season! Yes, for those still thinking that “hunting for snipe” means looking for an imaginary bird, you can be assured that the Wilson’s Snipe (Gallinago delicata) is indeed an actual species and, in fact, one that regularly visits the Barrington area during migration. And this is the time for its spring appearance, from early April through May.

I always look forward to snipe season which, it happens, is also woodcock season. Both birds are members of the shorebird family, even though they favor inland territories. They are short, stocky, with big heads and very long bills. Both feature elaborate and impressive aerial courtship displays. One evening years ago I ventured out at dusk in search of woodcocks. I heard the telltale peent! of one on the ground but then heard another distinctive sound – a soft, airborne woo-woo-woo-woo – and looked up to behold a Wilson’s Snipe circling and “winnowing” above. Then the woodcock catapulted skyward and there they were: two long-billed sky pilots performing splendid aerial maneuvers against the cobalt sky of evening. I’ll never forget that experience.

But while similar in some respects, the two are decidedly distinct – in flight pattern, preferred habitat, and appearance. While the American Woodcock has short stripes across its head, the Wilson’s Snipe sports longitudinal stripes, both on its head and back. Its breast is mottled and belly white, whereas the woodcock has uniform, peachy underplumage.

The Wilson’s Snipe hugs the ground most of the time, usually in wet, shallow-pooled meadows. Its cryptic coloration makes it almost impossible to detect until it bolts suddenly with a sharp scrat! and veers awkwardly left and right in zigzag flight. Sometimes on walks in soaked, muddy areas in early April, I’ll flush one or two dozen migrating snipe and never see one of them before they burst forth just ahead of me.

What especially distinguishes the Wilson’s Snipe is its “winnowing” flight, performed both day and night. On a recent Saturday morning, Carol Hogan and Wes Wolf described the pulsating woo-woo-woo-woo they were hearing as they were doing restoration work near a marsh at Grassy Lake Forest Preserve north of town. The next morning on a walk in a Cook County Forest Preserve I heard the same sound and looked up to see at least three snipe in flight. The sound is not vocal. It’s made by air rushing over outspread tail feathers. It is a thrill to hear.

Many field guides refer to the Common Snipe, but the common North American variety, with only the subtlest differences from its European cousin, is the Wilson’s Snipe, in honor of the famed early nineteenth century ornithologist, Alexander Wilson. The term “sniper” is directly related to the bird, derived from hunters who pursued the hard-to-see target.

The Wilson’s Snipe won’t linger for long in the Barrington area. Unlike the American Woodcock, it does not nest locally. But there’s still time to look for this unusual, highly interesting species – in local preserves with shallow wet areas, muddy sloughs, perhaps near a neighbor’s pond. It’s time to go on a snipe hunt!

If you’d like to learn more about the Birds of Barrington, Wendy invites you to join any of her upcoming Spring Bird Hikes. They’re free and open to the public, though space is limited and RSVP’s are required. Waterproof boots are strongly recommended and don’t forget your binoculars!

Here’s a look at this year’s upcoming hikes…

April 19, 8 a.m.
Crabtree Nature Center (3 Stover Road off of Palatine Road)

May 3, 7:30 a.m.
Crabtree Nature Center (3 Stover Road off of Palatine Road)

May 10, 7:30 a.m.
Deer Grove East*
(entrance on north side of Dundee Road, west of Hicks Road, east of Smith Street. Go to farthest parking area) with optional extension to Camp Alphonse (off Dundee Road)

May 15, 3:30 p.m.
Baker’s Lake for students and adults (parking lot on Highland Ave. south of Hillside Ave)

May 17, 7:30 a.m.
Beverly Lake*
(parking lot on north side of Higgins Rd/Rt. 72, east of Rt. 25, west of Beverly Road)

May 21, 7:30 a.m.
Crabtree Nature Center (3 Stover Road off of Palatine Road)

May 24, 7:00 a.m.
Headwaters* (parking lot on Wichman Rd. off north side of Rt. 72; ½ mile west of Rt. 59)

June 5, 7:00 a.m.
Galloping Hill*
(meet at Penny Road Pond parking lot, less than a mile west of Old Sutton/Penny Rd intersection)

June 16, 5:00 p.m.
Galloping Hill* (as above)

*indicates a more strenuous hike

Please RSVP to: Daniel Wear (312) 453-0230, Extension 2010 or dwear@audubon.org and let us know how best to contact you should that be necessary.

Before you head out, please be sure to check the Citizens for Conservation website (citizensforconservation.org) for any last minute changes or cancellations.

About the Author

Wendy Paulson has lived in Barrington Hills since 1975, and has led bird walks in the area for many years. She re-established the Nature Lady program in the Barrington 220 school district and St. Anne’s in the late 70s, under the auspices of The Garden Club and Little Garden Club of Barrington. Wendy developed the education program for Citizens for Conservation, initiated and edited its newsletter, and has been an active volunteer with CFC for over 30 years.

Wendy Paulson
Wendy Paulson

During interludes in New York City and Washington, DC, Wendy taught classes about birds in the public schools and is helping to develop a similar program in Chicago public schools with Openlands. She is chairman of The Bobolink Foundation, serves on the board or advisory committee of multiple conservation and bird-related organizations, both domestic and international, and is former chairman of IL and NY chapters of The Nature Conservancy.

Wendy and her husband Hank have two grown children and are avid hikers, cyclists, and kayakers.

CLICK HERE to explore all of the local bird profiles Wendy has authored in our Birds of Barrington series at 365Barrington.com.[vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”” style=”load-more” items_per_page=”15″ gap=”10″ item=”268053″ btn_color=”default” grid_id=”vc_gid:1545494260417-d5db2e15-4bbf-9″ taxonomies=”1053″][vc_column][/vc_column]

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