Your Bird­ing Month

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents -

Five birds to find dur­ing May in­clude Cuckoo, Knot, Re­drumped Swal­low and Puf­fin

THE ‘DRUM­MING’ OF Snipe is one of the great sounds of spring. Sadly, it is a sound that is un­fa­mil­iar to many bird­ers, as this is a species in great de­cline as a breed­ing bird. This is par­tic­u­larly the case in low­land Bri­tain, where most nest­ing Snipe are found at only a few lo­cal­i­ties. The sad­ness is not just be­cause the sound of Snipe drum­ming is a won­der­ful thing, but it is cer­tainly a part of it. The drum­ming, which has also been called bleat­ing, and al­most sounds like an artists’ im­pres­sion of a sheep as played by an early syn­the­siser, is not made vo­cally, but through air vi­brat­ing the spread outer tail feath­ers of the bird as it per­forms its odd div­ing dis­play flight. It is not the only sound Snipe make at the breed­ing grounds. In ad­di­tion to the drum­ming and the sneezed squelchy flight call (which flushed birds nearly al­ways make), there are cu­ri­ous mo­not­o­nous re­peated (vo­cal) ‘chip chip’ notes, which have been com­pared to the sound made by an un­oiled bi­cy­cle wheel. The com­bi­na­tion of the drum­ming and the ‘chip­ping’ call are un­mis­tak­able sounds of Snipe ter­ri­tory, be it dur­ing the day or at night. And it is dur­ing a still spring night when un­seen Snipe are drum­ming in the air above you that the whole ex­pe­ri­ence is par­tic­u­larly mag­i­cal. In ad­di­tion to mak­ing these great sounds, Snipe are, of course, won­der­ful look­ing birds. Not that they are easy birds to watch, though, be­ing painfully shy and of­ten feed­ing in cover of wa­ter­side veg­e­ta­tion or only ap­pear­ing when they flush from an un­seen po­si­tion. The com­bi­na­tion of cryptic pat­tern­ing and that ab­surdly long, straight bill is strik­ing and ex­tra­or­di­nary. But to ex­pe­ri­ence a Snipe at its best is to watch and lis­ten dur­ing the plung­ing, div­ing, drum­ming dis­play flight. Pure spring essence.

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