Your Birding Month
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.