Common Snipe Habitat Model
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Draft Date:
June 2001

Common snipe, Gallinago gallinago. G. g. delicata breeds in North America (Mueller, 1999), and is also known as Wilson’s snipe or the North American snipe (Johnsgard 1981).

Use of Study Area Resources:
Reproduction. Common snipe are holarctic, and breed in North America “from Alaska and California eastward across the northern United States and Canada to Hudson Bay, northern Quebec, Labrador and Newfoundland ... southward to Utah, Colorado, Iowa, Ohio and West Virginia” (Johnsgard 1981). They winter “from British Columbia and Georgia south to Central and South America” (Johnsgard 1981). In mild winters they may remain as far north as Massachusetts (Fogarty et al. 1977, Mueller 1999).

Habitat Requirements:
Cover. Tuck (1972) summarized common snipe breeding habitat in North America as “...restricted to organic soils, primarily peatlands” within the boreal northern forest biome, using “...sedge bogs, fens, and alder or willow swamps” which are poorly drained, mostly treeless, and low in soil nutrients. Snipe also use wet meadows, lowlands near streams and rivers, (Tuck 1972, Helmers 1992) and open fresh or brackish marshes with rich or tussocky vegetation (Hayman et al. 1986).

Foraging. Snipe forage by probing in wet organic soils on uplands, wetlands, and in shallow water (Mueller 1999, Johnsgard 1981). Accordingly, vegetation that is sparse, short or patchy is favored. They take earthworms, insect larvae, small crustaceans, and molluscs (Tuck 1969, Fritzell 1979). Plant fibers and grit are also consumed, but the plant material seems incidental to the way they feed .

Snipe require low scanty vegetation for nest and brood cover, and open spaces for courtship activity (DeGraaf and Rudis 1986). Nests begin as a simple scrape on the ground, with layers being added as nesting progresses (Arnold 1994). They are “usually placed in a fairly dry location, even if the surrounding area is very wet” (Johnsgard 1981), and are adjacent to wetlands that provide feeding areas (Mueller 1999). Nests are typically in thick grasses, sedge, or moss, and may be concealed by a canopy or overhanging shrub (Mueller 1999). Tuck (1972) noted that snipe are “virtually absent as a breeding species in marshes dominated by tall plants (Phragmites, Typha etc.)”. In Maine, Gibbs et al. (1991) found that nests were in wetlands with extensive and irregular shorelines, abundant emergent vegetation, and smaller areas of open water than unused wetlands. They also noted that the snipe nest sites in their study were on beaver ponds or constructed impoundments.

They were found to use Maine wetland complexes with > 3 ha of emergent vegetation significantly more often than those with 0.5 ha (Gibbs et al. 1991).

Appropriate cover types (see table, below) were selected. Habitat suitability also was selected using soil type information (for upland types) and patch size  area > 3 ha preferred).

NWI Designations
(wetlands only)
Cover Types Cover Suitability
(0 - 1 scale)
Upland deciduous forest
Upland coniferous forest
Upland mixed forest
Grassland 0.5*
Upland scrub/shrub 0.5*
Bare ground
PEM, L2EM Lake/pond, emergent vegetation


PFOcon Palustrine forest, conifer
PFOdec Palustrine forest, deciduous
PSSdec Palustrine scrub shrub, deciduous 1.0
PSScon Palustrine scrub shrub, conifer 1.0
PAB, L2AB Lake/pond, aquatic vegetation
L1UB, PUB Lake/pond, unconsolidated bottom
L2US Lake, unconsolidated shore
L2RS Lake, rocky shore
R1UB Riverine subtidal unconsolidated
Rper Riverine perennial
E1AB Estuarine subtidal vegetated
E1UB Estuarine subtidal unconsolidated bottom
E2AB Estuarine intertidal algae
E2EM Estuarine intertidal emergent
E2RS, R1RS Estuarine, tidal river rocky shore
E2SS Estuarine intertidal shrub
E2US Estuarine intertidal unconsolidated shore
M1AB Marine subtidal vegetated
M1UB Marine subtidal unconsolidated bottom
M2AB Marine intertidal algae
M2RS Marine intertidal rocky shore
M2US Marine intertidal unconsolidated shore
NOTES * if over moist organic soils, see below

Soils. Shrub and grassland areas mapped as uplands but having organic, poorly drained soils were regarded as being moderately suitable (0.5). These were designated through use of USDA/NRCS soils data; > 5% organics in at least 50% of the components and poorly or somewhat poorly drained, within the surface layer.  This intermediate score also was assigned because the relatively low resolution of some of our soils data reduced our confidence in the habitat suitability of those areas.

Area. Suitable grass, emergent or shrub cover areas > 3 ha = 1.0; otherwise suitability = 0.

HSI = area suitability x landcover and soils suitability; outputs were expressed on a 0 - 10 scale for convenience

Model testing: The common snipe occurrences along Breeding Bird Survey routes throughout the study area were used to test the habitat map. We compared the distribution of snipe habitat around a random set of 798 upland points to that for Breeding Bird Survey stops at which snipe were observed in 1990, 1997, or 1998. Of the 72 sites with birds, 44 had mapped habitat, while 251 sites out of the 797 randomly distributed sites had habitat. The Chi-square was highly significant (p << .001), indicating that the overall model does indicate localities useful for snipe. Moreover, the association was even stronger for habitats scored above 0.5, indicating that the relative scoring of habitats is valid.

The model also was tested using Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife marsh bird survey data (courtesy of T. Hodgman); this data set was sampled on foot and by boat, eliminating some of the artifacts of the BBS roadside observations. We compared the distribution of mapped habitat around a random set of 798 upland points to that for marsh bird survey stops at which bitterns were observed in 1998 through 2000. Of the 79 sites with birds, 60 had mapped habitat, while only 73 sites out of the 798 randomly distributed sites had habitat. The Chi-square also was highly significant.


Arnold, K.A. 1994. Common Snipe in Migratory Shore and Upland Game Bird Management in North America, T.C. Tacha and C.E. Braun (eds.), Allen Press, Lawrence, KS.

DeGraaf, R.M. and D.D. Rudis. 1986. New England Wildlife: habitat, natural history, and distribution. Gen. Tech. Rep. NE-108. Broomall, PA, USDA/USFS. 491p.

Fogarty, M.J., K.A. Arnold, L. McKibben, L.B. Pospichal and R.J. Tully. 1977. Common snipe (Capella gallinago delicata= Gallinago gallinago of Edwards 1974). Pp. 188-209 in Management of Migratory Shore and Upland Game Birds in North America, G.C. Sanderson (ed.). Int. Assoc. Fish and Wildl. Agencies.

Fritzell, E.K., G.A. Swanson and  M.I. Meyer. 1979. Fall foods of migrant common snipe in North Dakota. J. Wildl. Manage. 43(1):253-257.

Gibbs, J.P., J.R. Longcore, D.G. McAuley and J.K. Ringelman. 1991. Use of wetland habitats by selected nongame waterbirds in Maine. U.S. Fish Wildl. Serv., Fish Wildl. Res. 9. 57 p.

Hayman, P., J. Marchant and T. Prater. 1986. Shorebirds, an Identification Guide. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, MA.

Helmers, D.L. 1992. Shorebird Management Manual. Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network, Manomet, MA. 58 pp.

Johnsgard, P.A. 1981. The Plovers, Sandpipers and Snipes of the World. University of Nebraska Press. Lincoln. 493 pp.

Mueller, H. 1999. Common Snipe, Gallinago gallinago. In A. Poole and F. Gill, (eds.) The Birds of North America, No. 112. The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.

Tuck, L.M. 1972. The Snipes: a Study of the Genus Capella. Canadian Wildlife Service Monograph No. 5.

Tuck, L.M. 1969. Some aspects of the biology of the common snipe. Transactions of the Northeast Section of the Wildlife Society, 26th Northeast Fish & Wildlife Conference 9-12 Feb.1969. Pp. 141-151.