1484. Gallinago coelestis.
The Common Snipe, Full or Fantail Snipe.
Scolopax gallinago, Linn. Syst. Nat. i, p. 244 (1766); Anderson, Yunnan Exped., Aves, p. 681; Seebohm, Charadr. p. 484. ? Scolopax gallinaria, O. F. Muller, Zool. Dan. Prodr. p. 23 (1776). Scolopax coelestis, Frenzel, Besckr. Vog. u. Eier Geg. Wittenb. p. 58 (1801). Gallinago media, Leach, Syst. Cat. Mam. &c. B. M. p. 30 (1816). Gallinago scolopacinus, Bonap. Comp. List B. Fur. & N. Amer p. 52 (1838); Blyth, Cat. p. 272 ; Irby, Ibis, 1861, p. 241; Jerdon, B. I. iii, p. 674 ; McMaster, J. A. S. B. xl, pt. 2, p. 215; Blanf. ibid. p. 276; Stoliczka, J. A. S. B. xxxvii, pt. 2, p. 70; xli, pt. 2, p. 252 ; Hume, N. & E. p. 586 ; id. S. F. i, p. 235; Adam, ibid. p. 395; Hume, S. F. ii, p. 295; Butler, S. F. iv, p. 15; v, pp. 214, 232; Hume & Dav. S. F. vi, p. 459; Ball, S. F. vii, p. 228; Legge, Birds Ceyl. pp. 821, 1218; Biddulph, Ibis, 1881, p. 95 ; Scully, ibid. p. 588; Sharpe, Yark. Miss., Aves, p. 144. Gallinago gallinaria, Cripps, S. F. vii, p. 302 ; Hume, ibid. p. 483 ; id. Cat. no. 871; Bingham, S. F. viii, p. 196 ; Scully, ibid. p. 355; Vidal, S. F. ix, p. 84; Reid, S. F, x, p. 68; Barnes, Birds Bom. p. 345. Gallinago coelestis, Dresser, B. Eur. vii, p. 641 ; Hume & Marsh. Game B. iii, pp. 359, 437, pl. (also pl. opp. p. 438); Butler, S. F. ix, p. 428 ; Davidson, S. F. x, p. 320; Hume, ibid. p. 413: Taylor, ibid. p. 465; Oates, B. B. ii, p. 381 ; Hume, S. F. xi, p. 321. Gallinago gallinago, Sharpe, Cat. B. M. xxiv, p. 633.
Chaha (N. W.P. &c), Bharak, (Nepal) H.; Chegga, Khada-Kuchi, Beng.; Cheryga, Assam; Chek lonbi, Manipur; Myay-woot, Burm.; Chdha-charai, Uriya.; Tibud, Pan-lawa, Mahr. ; Mor-ulan, Tam.; Muku-puredi, Tel.; Kaeswatuwa, Cingalese.
Coloration. Crown black, with a broad median buff or whitish longitudinal band, and a whitish superciliary stripe on each side; a dark brown band on lores from bill to eye ; sides of head whitish, streaked with brown ; chin white ; neck all round and upper breast buff with dark brown streaks, broadest above; upper back and scapulars velvety black, the broad rufous-buff edges of the scapulars forming two longitudinal bands on each side ; tertiaries irregularly barred black and rufous buff; secondary-coverts dark brown with whitish spots; all primary-coverts, most of the larger secondary-coverts, primaries, and secondaries blackish brown ; all, except the outer primaries, white-tipped; secondaries mottled with white on inner webs ; lower back black, with white fringes and bars to the feathers; rump and upper tail-coverts rufous buff, broken up by black bars and shaft-lines ; tail-feathers black, with near the ends rufous cross-bands more or less mottled with black, tips buff; lower breast and abdomen white, barred with brown on the flanks ; lower tail-coverts banded buff and blackish; under wing-coverts and axillaries white, more or less barred with brown, but never evenly. The median secondary lower coverts are never barred, and the white on the axillaries in Indian birds always exceeds the brown in amount. It is probable, as Sharpe suggests, that the amount of white on the axillaries increases with the age of the bird, but certainly the dark bars are broader and more prevalent in European than in Indian skins.
Bill rufous brown, paler at the base; irides deep brown; legs olive-green. Tail-feathers 14 or 16 in number.
Length 10.5 ; tail 2.25 ; wing 5; tarsus 1.25; bill from gape 2.6. Females average a little larger than males and have longer bills (2.4 to 2.7 in males, 2.5 to 2.9 in females). Average weight of males 4.15 oz., of females 4.27.
Distribution. The Common Snipe breeds throughout the greater part of Europe, Central and Northern Asia, but chiefly between latitudes 50° and 70° N., and passes the winter in Southern Europe, N. Africa, and Southern Asia. Though found in winter in all parts of India, Ceylon, and Burma, at times it is by no means evenly distributed. It is the Snipe of the Upper Indo-Gangetic Plain, of Sind, the Punjab, Bajputana, Guzerat, the N.W. Provinces, Oudh, and Northern Bengal, and it predominates in the Peninsula north of the Godavari, and in some places farther south, at all events from October till February, but it is rare in Southern India and Ceylon, and to the eastward in Assam, Burma, &c.
Habits, &c. The Common Snipe arrives in Northern India as a rule in September or the beginning of October, and leaves in March. A few stragglers may be met with before the end of August and after the 1st of April, and in certain favourite localities some birds may remain till May. There can be no doubt that a few Snipe breed in Kashmir and perhaps in other parts of the Himalayas, though it is extraordinary that no instances appear to have been recorded, for it is asserted on apparently good authority that birds of this species do occasionally breed in the plains of India. In the 'Asian' for 1891 (Nov. 13th and 27th, and Dec. I8th) Lieut. G. de H. Smith states that he found a nest with three young in Gwalior territory on Oct. 31st, whilst Mr. E. C. Stuart Baker records the breeding of Snipe near Dumka, Sonthal Pergunnahs, in July and August, and both Mr. Baker and Mr. Hole state that Snipe (whether G. coelestis or G. stenura is not mentioned) breed regularly in Cachar.
Snipe keep to marshy ground, and feed chiefly on worms, which they obtain by thrusting their bills into soft mud and feeling for their food with the sensitive dilated tip. They also eat larvae of aquatic insects, small Crustacea, and mollusca. They move about a good deal in the early morning and late evening, and are to some extent nocturnal feeders, and they rest during the day amongst grass and reeds, or sometimes amongst weeds, where these form a thick floating mass, even on comparatively deep water, but Snipe never actually sit in water ; as Reid points out, they are careful to keep their breasts dry. When flushed they generally rise with a peculiar sibilant cry, not badly represented by ' psip.' They are gregarious, but, except when migrating, seldom fly in flocks. Their flight is swift from the beginning, and very often eccentric at first, though far less so in calm air under a hot sun than on a cold day when a stiff breeze is blowing. As Snipe afford by far the best bird-shooting to be had in India, much has been written on their habits, and an excellent account is given by Hume in the ' Game Birds.'
In its breeding haunts, the Snipe makes whilst flying a peculiar drumming or bleating sound, the cause of which is still somewhat obscure, although Legge's explanation that it is due to the puffs of air from the rapidly vibrating wing on the expanded tail-feathers (Birds Ceyl. p. 1218) seems most probable. The sound is only produced whilst the bird is descending obliquely in the air. The nest is a cup-shaped hollow in moss, turf, or rushes, sparingly lined with grass; in this four eggs are deposited, round at one end, conoidal at the other, dull green to olive in colour, and double-spotted as usual. The eggs are very large for the size of the bird, measuring about 1.6 by 1.1.