The Silent Common Snipe
These birds are masters at blending with the surroundings.
One may say they look a little different from the other birds as they seem to lack a tail and neck and have long straw-like beaks which adds to the strangeness. It is difficult to describe these birds because no two individuals look the same.
They are migrants in the plains of my country.
These birds have very complex markings with a striped head, neck, back and sides which act like very effective camouflage and helps them stay hidden. Only their bellies are white. Also, it is difficult to tell them apart from the other similar Snipes. I only managed to identify them when they were preening themselves.
On a typical day, they wake up, bathe, go for a swim and spend a lot of time preening. And they are off looking for food. After all this, they go to sleep in a duck-like way with their heads turned behind and beaks tucked into their backs.
Snipes use their long beaks as a straw, tweezer, as a probe and even as an oar among other purposes.
To feed, they stick their beaks into the mud and one can see their heads bobbing up and down while they do so. It reminds one of the pecking action of woodpeckers. It looks more like they are injecting something in rather than pulling something out. Once in a while, one can see pebble-sized food items in their beak. At other times, something transparent.
They are good swimmers. An interesting thing I noticed was that they can swim in reverse! This, to me, is similar to the way we reverse park our cars from a turn.
These birds are very silent. In the time I followed them, I never heard them let out any sound, no matter what.
Like other water birds, this one was heavily hunted down. In the past, entire flocks were wiped out across the country year after year. A former hunter once told me that all one got at the end from this bird was about eight grams of meat. That should be like a spoon. That’s it. “Not at all worthwhile,” he said…!!
They also face a more recent threat – habitat loss. The flock I was following lost their home to a side road that was being constructed at the very spot where our birds were. It wasn’t even a main road. The water was drained out. The plants dried up. I visited the place recently. There was no sign of these and the other birds. A beautiful habitat lost.
After all, it is a bird of ‘least concern’.