The wood-snipe is a very perfect connecting link between the typical snipes and those few members of the group which are dignified by the title of woodcocks; in style of flight, in the dark colour of its plumage, and especially in the dark transverse bars all over the lower parts of the body, it is a true woodcock, while it is also bigger than most snipes, being a thick-set bird weighing about five ounces and sometimes more, and measuring a foot in length. On the other hand, it shows snipe points in the bare hocks and the longitudinal dark markings on the head— those of all woodcocks being transverse—and in having several pairs of narrow feathers at the sides of the tail. The brown colour of these, by the way, is one of the distinctions between the wood-snipe and another big snipe often confounded with it, the Eastern solitary snipe, which also has narrowed lateral tail-feathers, which in its case are white with black bars.
The plain dark pinion-quills, so different from those of the woodcock with their chestnut chequering, are at first sight a distinct point of essential snipiness; but the American woodcock (Philohela minor) which everyone would call a typical woodcock, has also plain quills, so that, though useful to distinguish the wood-snipe from a small woodcock, they do not count either way in estimating its affinities.
Even the haunts of the bird show its intermediate nature; it frequents not so much woodland itself, but thick high grass cover at the edge of woods, wherever the ground is swampy or contains small pools ; the grass it affects is such as would be far too high and tangled for ordinary snipe, and it lies close and does not go far when flushed. Although, as in the case of the woodcock, stray specimens may occur away from the hills, this species again resembles the head of the clan in being essentially a mountain bird, breeding in the Himalayas, and visiting the hills of southern India during the winter. It extends to Manipur and even Tenasserim, but has not yet turned up anywhere outside our Empire.
Owing to its partiality for the unhealthy swamps of the Tarai, it is a very little known bird, and besides appears to be really scarce, although its retiring disposition and its habits, which seem quite as nocturnal as the woodcock's, no doubt cause it often to be overlooked ; in many places it can only be shot from an elephant's back, and people hunting in this way are generally after something better than snipe !
When rising, if it calls at all—it is generally silent, woodcock fashion—the note is a double croak, rendered as "tok-tok." The fact that it has modified feathers in the tail no doubt indicates that it performs love-flights and makes tail-music— a snipe point— but as a matter of fact there seems to be no record of this. The breeding-zone of the wood-snipe is lower in the Himalayas than that of the woodcock, for though it may be found breeding up to 12,000 feet, and therefore in the woodcock's territory, it also breeds as low as 4,000, at which elevation Mr. Stuart Baker took a nest near Shillong, while in Manipur it is suspected of breeding at 2,000 feet, and Mr. Baker rather thinks it is resident in the Himalayan dooars.
The egg he got from this nest seems to be the only authentic one in existence and, unfortunately, it happened to be a dwarf one ; the others in the clutch were smashed by the struggles of the parent, which was snared on her nest by his collector, but as the man said they were all alike, it is enough to indicate the colour, which, says Mr. Baker, is like that of many common snipe's eggs, but unusually brown; the shape also is quite ordinary. The food of the wood-snipe consists rather of insects than of worms, and curiously enough of small black seeds also; it is itself a particularly good bird for the table, if not of much importance as an object of sport.