Scotland is home to around 60 percent of the UK population of snipe, with them found across much of the country – here RSPB Scotland’s Jess Barrett brings you five facts you need to know about these birds.

Five facts about snipes

1. Subtle but beautiful

Snipe are not brightly coloured, their feathers are different shades of white, black and brown. However, what they lack in vibrancy they more than make up for in pattern with a beautiful marble looking effect to their feathers.

More importantly, this combination of colour and pattern is perfect for camouflage in the marshes, wetland grasses and moorlands where they live. They are secretive birds and if disturbed take off in a zig zag flight.

2. Drumming birds

Male snipe are famous for their aerial courtship display during the breeding season which has a rather special sound. Known as drumming, the noise is not a call but rather the male beating its tail feathers together in the wind while it flies.

The bleating sounding noise has been likened to a sheep or goat! Listen out for it at this time of year when out in marshes and uplands.  

3. Bills, bills, bills

Snipe have very long bills! This is one of the ways to tell them apart from Jack snipe who have much shorter bills.

This long bill is perfect for probing about in the mud to find all the tasty insects, crustaceans, and earthworms hiding beneath the surface. And that’s not all – a snipe bill has a flexible tip that’s full of nerves and means they are able to feel underground in the mud, helping them locate all the food they can. Once found, they will swallow their catch whole.

4. Split parental duties

Snipe are ground nesting birds. A female will tend to lay four eggs, and incubate them for around 3 weeks. Both parents will take care of the young though, with the brood often split between them – the males take care of the older chicks. The youngster will fledge when they are between 10-20 days old.

5. A wisp of snipe

While snipe don’t form large flocks they will feed close together. They will fly in loose flocks known as wisps.

Our Insh Marshes reserve in the Highlands is a great place for snipe. Find out more here.

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