The Common Snipe is an abundant passage migrant and winter visitor throughout Iberia, being found mainly in boggy areas on the edges of freshwater marshes and estuarine saltings. As a quarry species, it is well known to hunters, often flushing at close quarters with a zig-zag escape flight and a harsh ‘scraping’ call.
The species has a wide range across temperate and sub-Arctic Eurasia. In areas with relatively mild winters some move no further than the nearest coasts but more northerly breeders reach sub-Saharan Africa in the west and the Sub-Continent in the east. Recoveries of ringed birds have shown that most of those wintering in Iberia are from northern Europe, from the British Isles to Scandinavia.
The Common Snipe
Northern Portugal lies at the extreme southern edge of the breeding range, so it is only here that a few fortunate residents will hear the spectacular ‘drumming’ display in spring. This loud, throbbing ‘space invader’ sound is created by the birds vibrating their tail feathers in steep dives during flights over the nesting territory. It can sometimes be heard during the day but the birds are most active at and just after nightfall. The small population in the Trás-os-Montes has decreased due to the drainage of some of their montane habitat.
The extremely long bill probes the mud for small invertebrates beyond the reach of other wading birds. It is this which renders the bird unmistakable even to the casual observer, although a much rarer relative, the Great Snipe could also occur in Iberia. This prefers drier habitats, barely zig-zags when flushed and usually utters nothing more than a low grunt. Two other unrelated snipe-types can be seen in winter. The much larger Woodcock has broad, rounded wings and, unsurprisingly, occurs in woods and scrub. The diminutive Jack Snipe is found in bogs and at the muddy margins of water features. It sits very tight and is almost impossible to detect on the ground unless it reveals its presence with a curious bobbing action. Both of these latter species are solitary by nature whilst the Common Snipe often occurs in large numbers in prime habitats.