Bird Study Group January report
The Bird Study Group welcomed in 2016 on January 13 at Mike Turk’s home where the topic for the evening was the comparison of two similar-sized, “chunky” wetland birds, Wilson’s Snipe and the American Woodcock.
Wilson’s Snipe(Galinago delicato), standing 27-29 cm., is easily recognizeable by its brightly striped upper parts, bars on its sides, orange-tipped tail and very long bill. However, it is often not seen until it is disturbed and flushed from its cattail and bulrush marsh habitat, performing a series of aerial zigzags, designed to confuse predators.
The most familiar sound produced by the Wilson’s Snipe is NOT a call but a hollow, winnowing sound similar to that of a Boreal Owl. This sound is heard during courtship displays of the males as their outer tail feathers vibrate rapidly in the air.
The Wilson’s Snipe usually nests in dry grass, often under vegetation. The female incubates 4 olive-buff eggs, marked with dark brown, for about 20 days. Both parents raise the young, but often split the brood.
Of interest, the Snipe hunts by FEEL, using its long bill to probe deeply into the soil for earthworms and other vertebrates. The young are unable to do this until their bills are fully grown, so the adults must feed the chicks until that time.
The Wilson’s Snipe breeds across most of Alaska and Canada, and south into the western USA. During the winter, it can be found throughout the rest of the US, through Central America into South America.
The American Woodcock(Scolopax minor), also standing 27-29 cm. tall, is less colourful than the Snipe , mostly brown and black above, with a cross-barred pattern on its crown and entirely reddish-brown below. It prefers a mixed habitat of moist woodlands and brushy thickets, adjacent to grassy clearings and open fields, spending the days in the forest and the nights in the open fields.
Usually quiet and reclusive, the dusk and dawn mating display of the male American Woodcock is spectacular. He flies up in the air to a height of 300 feet, and then begins a spiralling glide down to land almost where he started. The three outer primaries are modified to produce a whistling sound during the spiral. The male will continue this aerobatic display until he is accepted by a female.
The Woodcock nests on the ground in woods or overgrown fields, with the female building a scrape lined with dead leaves and other debris. She incubates 4 pinkish- buff eggs, marked with brown/gray blotches for 20-22 days, then raises the brood on her own.
The American Woodcock is found across south-eastern North America, from mid Ontario through Quebec to the Maritimes, south into the United States to Florida and the Gulf Coast States.
Both the Wilson’s Snipe and the American Woodcock are considered “game birds”, and are hunted extensively with approximately 500,000 Snipe and over 2 million Woodcock being shot annually. Despite this, the status of both is considered relatively stable, although the American Woodcock is declining in some of the more easterly parts of its range, probably due to forest loss and pesticide use.
The evening concluded with a multiple-choice quiz, courtesy of Tony, which provided an interesting review of many common North American birds, living and extinct!
The next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, February 10 and will be hosted by Athena.