Bird of the Month – December 2020

Common Snipe Gallinago gallingo is a familiar and widespread species of wader here in Andalucía. It is a winter visitor and migrant to our region, although I have seen them throughout the summer months at various wetland locations. It does breed in the Iberian Peninsula, but latest data shows a large pattern of range loss across the peninsula. The striking loss of breeding pairs is consistent with predictions on range shift due to climate change. However, loss of wetlands due to habitat conversion related to agricultural management is also a reason for this species decline across much of Europe.

Our region is a major wintering area for the species and populations can fluctuate as many migrants also use the area as staging for migration to and from Africa. A great many migrants originate from Fennoscandia and central Europe, a large number continue their journey to North Africa and also sub Saharan Africa as far south as the equator.

Common Snipe
Note the barring on the chest (less distinct) and more obvious on the flanks. Note central crown stripe that is absent in Jack Snipe.

Of course, this species is most commonly found in extensive wetlands and various lagoons, but in recent times it has also shown a preference for cultivated rice paddies. The Doñana and La Janda are good places to easily observe these elegant small waders, but any stand of water and sedge lined waterways can produce sightings. It will also be found around coastal areas, most often estuarine type habitats and margins.

Common Snipe
Barring to flanks well illustrated here as opposed to streaking on Jack Snipe

Both Common and Jack Snipe Lymnocryptes minimus occur in the region, but the former is by far the most common. If you are not familiar with both species, identification can be tricky. Both species are exceptionally cryptic, but Jack Snipe are only three-quarters of the size, has a much shorter bill and the crown is uniformly dark, it has a split supercilium and pale cheeks. The flanks are streaked rather than barred as in Common Snipe. In general Jack Snipe appear darker than their more common cousin and in flight the legs do not trail beyond the tail feathers.

Article: Peter Jones
Photos: Peter Jones

Note: The views expressed in articles are those of the authors, and are not necessarily those of the Society.

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