When I was as a young boy there was this thing we did at night called a Snipe Hunt. A Snipe Hunt is where you headed into the woods after dark looking to see, or catch, a Snipe. Part of the challenge with this “hunt” was that no one knew what a Snipe was or what we were looking for. We were only told that, “We would know one when we found one”.
Growing up Snipe hunting was similar to looking for Bigfoot or ghost hunting. It was this idea of stepping into the unknown. It was something to do when you wanted to spend hours in the woods in the dark. Or, it was something you did to try and scare your friends. For us, Snipe hunting was a game of the imagination
Fast forward 40 years and it turns out that a Snipe is a real thing and you could actually see one if you were in the woods after dark. However, the Snipe is not a mysterious creature. It is a term that refers to any of about 26 wading bird species in the Sandpiper, or Scolopacidae, family.
I became re-acquainted with snipes over the past couple of years due to my dog’s need for early morning walks. Consistently, during the spring’s the predawn sky, I have heard a very interesting noise that sounded like it was circling in the air above the marsh. It was high pitched, almost mechanical, and repetitive. After recording the sound, and asking lots of questions of people who are smarter than me, I found out that this noise is called winnowing.
The sound of winnowing is produced by the tail feathers of the Wilson’s Snipe while they are doing aerial acrobatics as part of their territorial or mating behaviors. You can listen to noise below.
This fascinating bird is described as being a medium sized, brownish in color, with a heavily streaked head, neck, and breast. They also have a long bill and short legs. Snipes are said to be solitary birds that live in marshes and bogs. They eat mostly insects and use their long bill to probe the soil for their food. One interesting fact about the Wilson’s Snipe is that their “eyes are set far back on its head, it can see almost as well behind as in front and to the sides. This arrangement makes it difficult for a potential predator to sneak up on a feeding snipe—it almost literally has “eyes in the back of its head.”
The Wilson’s Snipe sometimes gets confused with the American Woodcock. The Woodcock is also part of the Sandpiper family, but is a little chunkier. Woodcocks live in the same type of habitat as the Wilson’s Snipe. I know this because I can hear the Woodcock’s buzzy “peent” call during these same early morning dog walks.
As my journey into the natural world continues, I am again amazed at how much I don’t know about the other than human species that live around me. And, it is always great to finally be able to make that connection between a personal experience, like hearing a noise in the sky, and the behaviors of a bird. Another mystery is solved!
Now what does that mean for Bigfoot?