Snipe are long-billed members of the sandpiper family that typically inhabit freshwater swamps and other densely-vegetated wetlands. Considerably larger than the endemic Coenocorypha snipes, the Japanese snipe is the only Gallinago snipe so far recorded in New Zealand. As the name suggests, most Japanese snipe breed in Japan; they migrate to New Guinea and eastern Australia during the southern summer, with occasional birds reaching New Zealand. It is likely that many are over-looked due to the densely-vegetated and rarely visited habitats that they prefer.
A medium-sized wader with a long straight bill, striped head, short legs and long wings. Habitat and behaviour are good identification cues: Japanese snipe are typically solitary, rising rapidly from dense wetland vegetation when disturbed.
Voice: a harsh ‘krark’ when flushed. The call may be made singly or repeated.
Similar species: unlikely to be confused with any other species known from New Zealand. The very similar Swinhoe’s snipe (G. megala) and pin-tailed snipe (G. stenura) are regularly recorded from northern and north-western Australia respectively; they are slightly smaller, and their shorter wings and tail give them a subtly different body shape.
Distribution and habitat
Japanese snipe breed in Japan and the Kurile Islands, and migrate to Papua New Guinea and eastern Australia. Vagrant to New Zealand, there are scattered records from Auckland south to the Snares Islands, with most records from Canterbury, Otago and Southland. Two probable records from Macquarie Island. Most New Zealand records are from freshwater wetlands; a few birds have been found on the vegetated fringes of estuaries and rivermouths.
New Zealand records
Specimens from Auckland (Mar 1898) and Castlecliff, Whanganui (Oct 1914). About 20 sight records, including from Taeiri Beach or rivermouth (Jan 1941, Jan 1942), with multiple sightings from Hamilton Lake, Manawatu estuary, Lake Wairarapa, Coopers Lagoon (Canterbury), Twizel, Taeiri River mouth, and Lake George (Colac Bay).
Behaviour and ecology
Typically solitary and secretive, keeping among dense low vegetation. A few records of 2-3 birds loosely associating at a single locality. Japanese snipe rely on their camouflage if disturbed, but if approached closely will rise rapidly in a zig-zag and may circle high over the wetland before pitching steeply down to land; often call when flushed.
Seeds, earthworms, arthropods and crustaceans obtained by probing. No New Zealand data.
Higgins, P.J.; Davies, S.J.J.F. (Eds.) 1996. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic birds. Vol. 3. Snipe to Pigeons. Oxford University Press: Melbourne.
Miskelly, C.M.; Cooper, W.J.; Morrison, K.; Morrison, J.V. 1985. Snipe in Southland. Notornis 32: 327-328.
Miskelly, C.M. 2013 [updated 2017]. Japanese snipe. In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Online. www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz
- Breeding season
- Egg laying dates