Western Solitary Snipe.
" Double Snipe."
This fine snipe, called great snipe by naturalists at home, is as big as our two large mountain species, but easily distinguishable from both by the outside tail-feathers being nearly all white and of normal width, this ordinary structure of the tail-feathers being a point to be noticed in young specimens, in which they are barred; four pairs of the feathers show this white, or white ground. Only one specimen shot in India has been preserved ; this was shot in October, 1910, near Bangalore, by Captain A. Boxwell, and was a quite young bird; yet it weighed seven ounces. It rose without a cry, but with a pronounced flutter of the wings, from a patch of mud at the edge of a rice-field. It was not, however, the first specimen recorded, for another, an adult weighing over eight ounces, had been shot in September, 1899, near Madras, by Captain Donovan, who thought he had got the species, but lost the specimen through sending it to the Madras Museum for identification, when it went bad and was thrown away, its captor only getting the information that his prize was a " wood-snipe." I suppose, from the frequency with which this bird is brought out whenever there is a question of big snipe, that any bird of the snipe kind which is big gets put down "as a wood-snipe because the name suggests the woodcock, known to be a big bird of the snipe kind; for of course such mistakes ought never to be made. The moral is obvious ; in doubtful cases save the tail and eat your snipe. The great snipe breeds west of us, in Siberia and the north of Europe, and its usual winter haunts are the countries bordering on the Mediterranean, but it is also found as far east as Persia. Although in the structure of its bill— which is short for its size, not being so long as the fantail's—and its feeding-habits, it resembles the fantail snipe, as it does in its normally shaped tail; it has a slow, straight, heavy flight. This sluggishness of movement may be the reason why it gets so fat; the skin often breaks with the fall when the bird is shot. It is very nocturnal in its habits, and seldom moves by day. It is thus possible that it is often overlooked—indeed probable, as our only two recorded occurrences were in the South of India, where one certainly would not have expected it. Perhaps, like so many western birds, it may even breed in the Himalayas. It would be highly interesting if the double snipe ever does turn out to breed with us, because its breeding habits are unique in the group so far as is known. The birds appear to have no love-flights, but to carry out their courting exercises and vocal accompaniments on the ground; this alone would be remarkable enough, but in addition they are social at this period, and hold tournaments after the manner of black-game and several other grouse, where the males show off, and fight when they meet each other. The fighting does not amount to much, being confined to feeble slapping with the wings, and not lasting long at about.
But the other performances of the males are curious ; the bird runs about with puffed-out feathers and drooping wings, every now and then jumping on a tussock, snapping his bill and uttering a soft, nearly a warbling, note, audible for some distance and rendered as bip, bip, bipbip, bipbiperere, biperere ; closer still various other sounds are audible, and the warbling amounts to a regular song. When singing the bird usually sits on a tussock, holding up his head till the snapping note is given out, and then depressing it, and erecting and spreading his tail till the white side-feathers show as two patches in the darkness; for although commenced at the oncoming of dusk, the " Spil " as it is called in Norway, is carried on all night. As the birds coming to it, in Professor Collett's standard account here indented on, are spoken of as so many pairs— usually eight to ten— it would seem they are mated already, and do not come to get mates, although the cocks are mentioned as running about as above described before the females.
The erection and spreading of the tail, by the way, is also noticeable in the woodcock under excitement.
The eggs of this bird are much larger than those of the common snipe, and vary much in the amount of their marking; the ground is olive-grey or stone buff, and the spots deep-brown and purplish-grey.