Gallinago stenura

Pintail Snipe.

Gallinago stenura.

Myay-woot, Burmese.

The pintail snipe is so like the common or fantail snipe in appearance, flight, and cry, that few people can distinguish it on the wing, though, as Mr. E. C. Stuart Baker tells us, a friend of his once won a wager with him by correctly referring to their species ten snipe, six fantail and four pintail, as fast as he shot them. When brought to book, however, they can be told apart with one's eyes shut. If one takes the bill of a snipe, of the ordinary type usually shot, in the thumb and fingers at the base, and feels it down to the tip, a distinct, though slight, thickening will be felt at the end in the case of a fantail, while in the pintail the calibre is practically the same throughout.

There is also a difference at the opposite end ; on parting the soft feathers, or tail-coverts, which in snipe, as in most ducks, partly conceal the short tail, and counting the tail-feathers, there will be found on the fantail to be fourteen or sixteen in number, and all much alike and of ordinary shape, though the two outer are rather stiff and narrow— these are the " bleating" feathers, as remarked in the last article. In the pintail, there are ten ordinary feathers in the centre of the tail, while outside these are several pairs, up to eight, the number being variable, of curious short and very narrow feathers; these are those which give the bird its name, being little broader than a stout pin. Thus a fully developed tail in this species has twenty-six feathers. Specimens with only half-a-dozen pairs of pin-feathers in the tail are unusually large in body, and have particularly yellow legs ; they weigh over five ounces, whereas ordinary pintail snipe average 391 ounces in the cock and 4.2 in the hen.

These big specimens very likely constitute a distinct local race, or sub-species, for as Mr. W. Val Weston, who first drew attention to them, says, they arrive at a different time from the ordinary pintail snipe, coming in with the fantails, which arrive in India later than the other species. Pintails may come in, though very rarely, in July, and regularly arrive in the beginning of August, but do not get down to Ceylon till October. On the whole they are more distributed towards the southern and eastern parts of our Empire than the fantails; I give the Burmese name because pintails are the snipe commonly got in Burma, for as a matter of fact natives seem never to distinguish, between the two kinds, observant as many of them are. At the end of the year there are hardly any pintails in the north, but in March they are again the more abundant species in the north-east ; and some may be found after the fantails have all gone north.

Thus, although in many places and at many times both kinds occur abundantly side by side, on the whole they tend to replace each other quite as much as to occur together. Another factor in their separation lies in a slight difference in their habits— as might be expected from the different form of the bill, which is less adapted for feeling in mud in the pintail—their food is rather different. Both eat worms, but while fantails chiefly con¬sume water-snails and water-insects in addition, pintails consume land creatures in large quantities, land snails, caterpillars, and even beetles, grasshoppers, and flying ants. Such food is naturally sought on different ground, and so, though both are often found in the same places, pintail are often found feeding on grass land and in stubble fields, and will lie up for the day in jungle and dry grass.

In dry specimens a further difference in the beaks besides that of calibre is apparent ; in the fantail the more abundant nerve-endings, drying up, give the end of the bill a much more pitted appearance than is seen in that of the other species, whose bill is less sensitive. It is probably on account of the less succulent food it consumes, as Mr. Baker suggests, that the pintail snipe is not quite so good on the table as the fantail, being often rather dryer in flesh.

Both species are liable to produce light, more or less albinistic varieties, of a fawn or creamy colour, and, far more rarely, very dark forms, of the type known in the common snipe in Europe as " Sabine's Snipe." Only one such dark blackish specimen of each kind has ever been recorded in India, and even the other variation, though commoner than varieties of birds usually are, is so rare that neither Mr. Baker nor Mr. Dods has ever shot one in all their long experience. The pintail is also particularly subject to minor variations in its plumage, the under-surface being often barred all over, while it has not the blank space in the barred wing lining which is noticeable in the fantail snipe.

Pintail snipe sometimes breed in the country; more than one set of eggs have been taken in Cachar, and in some years they seem to breed there quite frequently; the eggs are not certainly distinguishable from those of the common snipe, and the nest is similar.

The noise made in flight in the breeding season is, however, apparently characteristic, as one would expect from the very different tail-feathers ; according to Prjevalsky, who studied this snipe in its breeding haunts on the Ussuri, " 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." The vocal two-syllabled note, however, is probably much like that of the common snipe. The Yenisei River forms the western limit of the pintail snipe's northern breeding range, which is thus confined to Eastern Asia, and it winters in the East Indies as swell as in India and Burma.

Indian Sporting Birds
Finn, Frank. Indian Sporting Birds. Edwards, 1915.
Title in Book: 
Gallinago stenura
Book Author: 
Frank Finn
Page No: 
Common name: 
Pintail Snipe
Pin-tailed Snipe
Gallinago stenura
Term name: 

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