Gallinago gallinula


Gallinago gallinula.

Chota Chaha, Hindustani.

The jack-snipe is a rather neglected bird in comparison with its relatives, perhaps on account of its small size ; it is only about as big as a skylark, and its beak is less than two inches long, while the weight, although the bird is commonly very fat, does not exceed two and a half ounces, and may be an ounce less than this; there is no difference of size between the sexes.

More important points than size, however, characterize the little jack ; curiously enough, he has, like the king of our snipes, the woodcock, only twelve tail-feathers, which, though the ordinary number for birds in general, is very short allowance for a snipe, as may be judged from what has been said about other species. All these tail-feathers, by the way, are pointed, but soft. More noticeable points, however, are the two cream-coloured stripes on the head instead of the three commonly found in snipes, and the marked sheen of green and purple on the upper plumage, which makes this little fellow the handsomest of the true snipes.

In flight the jack is notoriously distinct from snipes in general; he rises very straight, flickers like a butterfly, flies a very short distance and—another curious likeness to the woodcock— drops as if shot just when one does not expect it.

There is no doubt that, quite apart from the fact that the bird is often overlooked and sometimes despised for its smallness, it is not nearly so common or so regular in its visitations as the two stock snipes, pintail and fantail, nor is it so widely distributed as these are. Between 1894 and 1902, the years in which I lived in India, I only once found it common in the Calcutta market, although Hume says in his time it was brought in in thousands. Tickell and Mr. Baker, on the other hand, found it rare there, and, as we were all observing at different times, the inference is obvious that in some years, or periods of years, this bird visits us in greater numbers than in others, like so many other migratory species. It seems to be rare in the North-west, and has only once been shot in the Andamans.

As its breeding range, which extends all across the northern parts of the Old World, is to the north of that of our common snipes, it is not surprising to find that it does not breed here, but is merely a winter visitor, and has not been known to stay later than April, though it may arrive by the end of August.

When here it is very local, and a favourite haunt is closely adhered to, another tenant occupying it if the incumbent for the time being is killed, while it takes a lot of shooting at it to put a bird off its home. According to Hume, it is particularly fond of corners, whether formed by the embankment of a paddy¬ field or by natural cover, and it likes wet ground, but must have shelter as well, so that its attachment to. certain spots is easily explained. Although, on its breeding-grounds, it somehow, in its nuptial flights, produces a great noise which is. compared to the traditional ''ammer 'ammer, 'ammer, on the 'ard 'igh road " of a horse's hoofs, it does not give itself away by any note when rising, and its flight, if only by the mere fact that it is so different from that of other snipe, puzzles many people very much, though others say it is hard to hit. As Mr. Baker says : " Hume says that it is probably one of the easiest birds in the world to shoot if you reserve your fire till the proper moment, but I must personally confess that I have never yet quite made up my mind as to which this proper moment is !" But as to the jack's superior excellence on the table everybody seems agreed it is a case of "little and good" here, as it so often is in more important matters. Fortunately the bird, when flushed again and again, still adheres to its policy of lying close and not running, and so gives several chances. Dogs also mark it easily, on account of its unusually strong scent. As the food of this snipe includes grass-seeds and even a little grass itself, although chiefly consisting of the small forms of animal life eaten by snipe in general, it may fairly claim to be original in this respect also. It is worth mentioning that it is almost the champion egg layer of the bird world, for though the number is only the usual four, the eggs themselves are nearly as big as the common snipe's, and might easily be mistaken for them except for being less bulky.

Besides the native name quoted at the head of the article, others in use are Obn in Tamil and Daodidap gajiba in Cachari.

Indian Sporting Birds
Finn, Frank. Indian Sporting Birds. Edwards, 1915.
Title in Book: 
Gallinago gallinula
Book Author: 
Frank Finn
Page No: 
Common name: 
Jack Snipe
Jack Snipe
Lymnocryptes minimus

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