130. THE PIN-TAIL SNIPE.
Gallinago stenura (KUHL).
Tip of the first secondary quill reaching closely to the tips of the primary coverts.
Outer web of the first primary brown, like the inner web. White margins to the tips of the
secondaries never wider than the thickness of a small pin, or altogether absent.
With a longitudinal pale band on the crown.
Outer tail-feathers narrow and stiff.
VERNACULAR NAMES :—The same as those used for the Common Snipe.
THE Pin-tail Snipe is found, during the winter, over nearly every portion of the Empire, including Ceylon, the Andamans and Nicobars, except in the North-west. From all that I can gather, it would appear that a line drawn from the head of the Gulf of Cutch to the western part of Garhwal, in the Himalayas, represents the limit of the distribution of this Snipe. West of this line it is absent or extremely uncommon; east of this line it is more or less common and met with in varying quantities. In the peninsula of India this Snipe is less abundant as a rule than the Common Snipe; in the eastern part of the Empire the reverse is the case. As remarked in the account of the Common Snipe, the Pin-tail is found at Kengtung in the Shan States, where probably Swinhoe's Snipe will also be found.
The Pin-tail is found in summer over the eastern part of Asia up to the Arctic Circle, and from the Yenesei river to the Pacific Ocean. In winter it visits India, Burma, China and the islands of the Malay Archipelago.
The Pin-tail arrives in India and Burma about the middle of August, and by the end of that month it is quite common. In November the numbers of this Snipe are reduced (I am speaking of Lower Burma), probably by the migration of some of the birds farther south. In January, owing to the drying up of the land, no large numbers of this Snipe are to be met with, and by February few birds are left. Single specimens may, however, be shot here and there up to the commencement of May.
Except in the matter of food and choice of feeding-grounds, this and the Common Snipe do not differ much in habits. It is true that the two birds are said to have quite distinct notes on being flushed, and that the flight of the Pin-tail is said to be heavier and more direct than that of the Common Snipe, but opinions on even these common matters of observation are considerably divided. Personally I have been unable to distinguish between the two species when alive.
It is curious how, when the hot weather comes on in Burma, the Pin-tail will frequently be found lying up in grass far from any water, and on ground which is baked hard. At such times, I believe, the birds are only sleeping or resting, but it is nevertheless remarkable that such hot, dry spots should be chosen for the purpose.
Large bags of Snipe, chiefly consisting of Pin-tails, are commonly made in Lower Burma. The largest number brought to bag, that has come to my knowledge, is one hundred and seven couple and a half by one gun, some few miles north of Rangoon. In the Shan States, seventy one couples have been obtained by one gun near Fort Stedman, and very large bags are sometimes made in the Kyoukse District in Upper Burma, where the rice-fields are under constant irrigation during the dry weather.
The late Mr. H. Seebohm observed this Snipe in summer, and writing in the Ibis, said :—" The first Wader which arrived at our winter quarters on the Arctic Circle was the Pin-tailed Snipe. We shot a couple on the 5 th of June, three days after the ice began to break up on the great river. Three days later they were exceedingly common on the oases of bare grass which the sun had been able to make in a few favourable situations in the midst of the otherwise universal desert of melting snow. I could easily have shot a score a day if I had had cartridges to spare. They used to come wheeling round, uttering a loud and rather shrill cry (some idea of which may be gathered by the sound of the word peezh, long drawn out); then they used to drop down with a great whirr of wings, and with tail outspread—an operation which seemed so engrossing that they appeared seldom to discover, until they were on the ground, that they had chosen a spot to alight within twenty yards of a man with a gun. It was amusing to see them find out their mistake. Some¬times as soon as they caught my eye they would take wing and fly quietly away ; but more often they would hurry off as fast as their legs would carry them, and hide behind a tuft of grass or a bush. I never heard the Pin-tailed Snipe ' drum,' as the Common Snipe often does, when wheeling round and round at a considerable height in the air; nor did I ever hear the tyik-tyuk so characteristic of the Common Snipe. I think the Pin-tailed Snipe is much easier to shoot than our bird. The flight seems to me slower and less zigzag."
Perhaps Mr. Seebohm was too early in such high northern latitudes to witness the peculiar habits of this Snipe at the breeding season. They are thus described by Colonel Prjevalsky, who refers to this Snipe under the name of G. heterocerca. He says:—" It breeds in tolerable numbers on the Ussuri, but is still more plentiful during migration, about the 10th of April and in the end of August.
"In the latter half of April the birds choose their nesting-localities in the thinly overgrown marshes, and their peculiar courting commences. Rising into the air, similar to our G. scolopacina, and describing large circles above the spot where the female is sitting, it suddenly dashes downwards with great noise (which is most likely produced by the tail-feathers, like that made by our species, and somewhat resembles the noise of a broken rocket). As the bird approaches the ground the noise increases, until it has got within a hundred yards, when it suddenly stops the sound and quietly flies on, uttering a note something like tiric, tiric, tiric. Courtship lasts until the middle of June, and is mostly heard or seen in the mornings and evenings, but occasionally in the daytime, and even at night in the clear weather."
The eggs of this Snipe have not been described, and it is doubtful if they have ever been taken by any naturalist. The extracts above quoted were written some twenty years ago, and I believe that, since that time, no further light has been thrown on the breeding of this Snipe.
The Pin-tail Snipe has the plumage so similar to that of the Common Snipe that it is unnecessary to describe it separately. The points of difference between the two species may be thus summarised:—
COMMON SNIPE.— The outer web of the first primary white ; the outer secondaries tipped with white to the extent of one-tenth of an inch, and frequently more; the under wing-coverts irregularly barred, and with a central patch wholly white; the outer tail-feathers soft and not much narrower than the others ; the bill about 2.75 in length from the forehead to the tip.
PIN-TAIL SNIPE.— The outer web of the first primary brown like the inner; the outer secondaries with very narrow white tips or none at all, never broader than the thickness of an ordinary small pin; the under wing-coverts very regularly barred throughout, without any plain white central patch ; the outer tail-feathers extremely narrow and stiff, the outermost being about one-twentieth of an inch wide near the tip; the bill generally less than, and seldom exceeding, 2.5 in length, from the forehead to the tip.
With the exception of the bill, the dimensions of the two species are much alike, except that the total length varies of course in the same way as the bill.
The tail-feathers when complete are twenty-six in number. Of these eight, or even ten, may be termed soft and broad. The others rapidly narrow and become stiff, the outermost feathers resembling a stout pin.
The bill of the Common Snipe, in addition to being longer, is also much broader near the tip and covered with more numerous pits than in that of the Pin-tail Snipe.
The weight of the two species is much the same, but the Pin-tail, according to Messrs. Hume and Marshall, is, on the average, a trifle lighter than the Common Snipe.
Allied to the Pin-tail Snipe is Swinhoe.'s Snipe (G. megala), which extends, according to season, from Siberia to the Malay Archipelago, and is extremely likely to be met with in Burma and the Shan States. It differs from the Pin-tail only in the structure of its tail, which has twenty feathers instead of twenty-six. But the tails of Snipes are very often imperfect, and the process of counting the number of feathers in the tail tedious; so that it will be sufficient for the purpose of discriminating the two species to notice that, whereas in the Pin-tail Snipe the outermost tail-feather is no thicker than a stout pin, and those next to it of much the same character; in Swinhoe's Snipe the outermost tail-feather is from .1 to .15 of an inch wide, and that those next to it gradually increase in width till the sixth feather from the outside is one-quarter of an inch in width.