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Wilson’s snipe (formerly known as common snipe) is a large shorebird (about 10.5 inches long, 3.7 oz) and one of two shorebird species that can be hunted in Kansas. Like other shorebirds, this species prefers to forage on mudflats and in water less than three inches deep in wetlands and along shorelines. Unlike most other shorebirds, common snipe frequently feed at vegetated sites. They use their 2 to 3-inch long bill to probe into the mud for animal foods such as aquatic insect larvae and earthworms.
Snipe nest in Canada and the northern tier of U.S. states. They begin arriving in Kansas during late summer and can remain throughout the winter.
Cheyenne Bottoms and other shallow marshes are the primary snipe hunting areas in Kansas. Snipe hunting is physically challenging because hunters wade or slog through often mucky areas to flush snipe. Just getting off a shot is difficult at times because it’s hard to keep from falling down while swinging the gun in response to their erratic, fast flight. Many a shot is not taken because the hunter is off balance and doesn’t want to fall in the mud.
Snipe hunters need to be proficient in wetland bird identification to make sure they do not accidentally shoot similar-looking species that are protected. Yellowlegs (greater and lesser) and dowitchers (long-billed and short-billed) are the four species most similar in appearance and size to snipe. Color patterns, flight, and call are the best characteristics for distinguishing snipe from look-alike species.
Color - The two yellowlegs species have a white rump patch and the dowitchers have a white stripe that runs from the rump to the middle of the back. A snipe doesn’t have any white on its back.
Flight – Snipe fly in a zig-zag pattern and more powerfully than yellowlegs and dowitchers. Dowitchers and yellowlegs tend to fly in a straight line.
Call – Snipe tend to give a single-note call when flushed, while dowitchers and yellowlegs typically give multiple-note calls.