127. THE WOOD-SNIPE.
Gallinago nemoricola (HODGSON).
Tip of the first secondary quill falling beyond the tips of the primary coverts by about three-quarters of an inch.
Outer web of the first primary entirely brown, like the inner web.
Outer tail-feathers narrow and stiff.
VERNACULAR NAMES :—Ban-chaha, Nepal.
THE Wood-Snipe is restricted, so far as is at present known, to the Indian Empire. In the summer, it is found in the Himalayas from Dalhousie and the Ravi river on the west to Sikhim on the east, at elevations ranging from 6,000 to 10,000 feet. It seems improbable, however, that Sikhim should be its eastern limit; and this Snipe will, no doubt, be hereafter discovered in summer on the Himalayas in Bhutan and Assam.
In winter this species finds its way south to all the hill ranges of the peninsula and even to Ceylon, and on migration it is met with on the plains. Its western limit is altogether unknown; but I conjecture that it will prove to be roughly a line drawn from Dalhousie to Baroda.
This Snipe is probably commoner in the eastern portion of the Empire than in the Indian peninsula itself. It has been obtained in the Dibrugarh district of Assam, in the Garo and Khasi hills, and in Manipur. Both Mr. A. E. English and Captain J. Donovan procured numerous specimens at Maymyo, to the east of Mandalay. Major G. Rippon informs me that this species has been shot at Toungyi and at Bampone in the Southern Shan States, and Lieut. J. H. Whitehead writes to me that he has shot it at Kengtung. The late Mr. W. Davison observed this Snipe at the extreme southern end of Tenasserim.
The Wood-Snipe leaves the Himalayas, on migration south, about the end of October; but from the fact that this Snipe has been observed in the Khasi hills and in Manipur in September, it is extremely probable that it may be a constant resident in some of the numerous hill-ranges of the Indo-Burmese countries or the Shan States. The shape of the wing indicates it to be a poor flyer, and that the days of its migrations are numbered. I cannot find any note regarding the date on which this bird leaves the plains. In fact, this Snipe is everywhere so uncommon that very little is really known about its habits.
The Wood-Snipe is found in swampy places near the edge of the jungle, often solitary, sometimes in small companies, as mentioned by Captain Baldwin. It rises with a croaking note, flies slowly, and affords a very easy shot. It is probably a nocturnal feeder, and during the day it appears to retire to some quiet shelter, under a bush or tuft of grass, near water. As the result of the examination of the contents of the stomach of several of these Snipes, Mr. Hume is of opinion that they do not feed as much on worms as do the Wood-Cocks. Their food appears to consist more of insects of various kinds. Captain Baldwin states that the Wood-Snipe is a most excellent bird for the table; but Mr. Ditmas, on the other hand, states that it is much inferior to the Pin-tail in flavour, and the meat coarser in texture. Of the habits of the Wood-Snipe during the breeding-season we know nothing.
Mr. Hume tells us that Mandelli's native shikaris took four clutches of the eggs of this species near Darjiling during the latter part of June, and he adds that Mandelli gave him some of these eggs. In the course of writing the Catalogue of the Eggs contained in the Collection of the British Museum, I have carefully gone through all the eggs of the Snipes,
and there are certainly no eggs of the Wood-Snipe to be found in the Hume Collection.
On the other hand, although Mr. Hume omits all mention of the Solitary Snipe from his "Nests and Eggs," and states in the " Game Birds " that he has never seen the eggs of that species, there are, nevertheless, three eggs of the Solitary Snipe in the Hume Collection, one of which is marked " 869. Gallinago solitaria, Native Sikhim, 18.6.79." These eggs agree exactly with other eggs of the Solitary Snipe from Western China, taken by Mr. A. E. Pratt, and undoubtedly authentic.
Under these circumstances I am inclined to think that Mandelli's reputed eggs of the Wood-Snipe were afterwards discovered to be the eggs of the Solitary Snipe, possibly by the identification of a skin, or by some information subsequently received.
The account of the breeding of the Wood-Snipe contained in " Nests and Eggs" and the " Game Birds" must, therefore, be viewed with doubt, and I do not quote it.
The Wood-Snipe has the forehead and the crown of the head deep black, with an indistinct pale buff longitudinal streak down the middle of the crown. There is a broad whitish band from the bill, passing over the eye; below this a broad black band connecting the eye with the bill. The chin is white. The throat and sides of the head are whitish with blackish spots and streaks, and a black band covers a part of the cheeks. The neck all round is buff, blotched with black. The back is black. The inner scapulars are black, with a broad buff margin to the outer web. The outer and longer scapulars are barred and tipped with buff. The upper part of the rump is dark brown, barred with dull white; the lower part, and the upper tail-coverts, dull rufous barred with brown, and the outer feathers of the coverts tipped with white. The broad median tail-feathers are black, terminated with chestnut, a wavy black bar and a whitish tip. The lateral feathers are ashy, barred with brown and tipped whitish. The lesser and median upper wing-coverts are irregularly barred with dark brown and buff. The greater and primary coverts are dark brown, tipped with white. The primaries and the outer secondaries are plain, dark brown, with slightly paler tips: The inner long secondaries are barred with black and dull chestnut. The chest and breast are fulvous, mottled with black; the sides of the body are fulvous, barred with black; the abdomen and thighs are dull white barred with brown ; the under tail-coverts are barred with brown, fulvous, and white. The axillaries are ashy brown, obliquely barred with white; the under wing-coverts are regularly barred with ashy brown and white.
The sexes do not differ much in size. Length about 12 ; wing 5 1/2; tail about 2 ; bill about 2 1/2. The bill is brown, darker on the terminal third of its length; the irides are brown; the legs are plumbeous or greenish. Weight usually up to a little more than 6 oz.* There are eighteen tail-feathers, of which the six middle ones are soft and broad, and six on each side, stiffer and gradually diminishing in width and length, the outermost feather being about one-tenth of an inch wide.
* Mr. J. W. Ditmas states that a Snipe of this species, shot by him in the Wynaad, weighed 8 1/2 oz.