Jack Snipe

Lymnocryptes minimus

Highly camouflaged and elusive, the jack snipe is a small wading bird that spends winters on mudflats and freshwater wetlands across Britain. Smaller and less common than the UK’s other native snipe, the common snipe, jack snipes are harder to spot due to their tendency to crouch low and remain hidden among reeds.

Jack Snipe

Jack Snipe

Jack Snipe wading through the reeds

Jack Snipe wading through the reeds

Close up of a Jack Snipe in flight

Close up of a Jack Snipe in flight

Jack Snipe foraging for food in its natural habitat

Jack Snipe foraging for food in its natural habitat

Appearance & Identification

What do Jack Snipes look like?

Smaller than a common snipe, and with a shorter bill, the jack snipe is a stocky wading bird, with a large head, narrow wings and a wedge-shaped tail.

Males and females are alike in appearance: their mottled dark brown bodies are marked with golden stripes, allowing them to blend in well among wetland vegetation. The lower belly is white, while the upper breast is buff and streaked with thin dark markings.

The jack snipe’s back features a glossy green-purple shine to the dark brown-black patches. It has a dark brown head, with pale lines above the eyes, punctuated by a thin dark brown ‘eyebrow’.

Close up of a Jack Snipe

Close up of a Jack Snipe

Female jack snipes are hard to tell apart from males when a lone bird is observed, but when studying a pair, you may be able to see that the bill of the female is slightly longer, while the male’s is broader.

Juvenile jack snipes are similar in appearance and colouring to adults, but are marginally smaller and lighter in weight. The underside of a young jack snipe’s tail is paler than that of adult birds, and its bill and legs are darker.

How big are Jack Snipes?

In body size, male and female jack snipes are roughly the same size, but wingspan is where the key difference between the sexes lies. Males have significantly longer wings and tails than females.

  • Length: 18 cm to 25 cm (7.1 in to 9.8 in)
  • Wingspan: 30 cm to 41 cm (12 in to 16 in)
  • Weight: 33 g to 73 g (1.2 oz to 2.6 oz)
Jack Snipe in the water, Warwickshire, UK

Jack Snipe in the water, Warwickshire, UK

Calls & Sounds

What sound does a Jack Snipe make?

Jack snipes are generally only heard during the breeding season, when they are known for making a highly distinctive call that sounds like the clip-clopping noise made by a galloping horse as part of their courtship flight display.

Other sounds made by male jack snipes in their noisy bid to attract a mate include loud drumming and a series of high-pitched whistled notes.


What do Jack Snipes eat?

Commonly seen foraging around the edges of reedbeds and lagoons, jack snipes probe the soft mud for insects and worms beneath the surface, as well as picking up food they have spotted.

As well as insects and other invertebrates, plant material forms an important share of a jack snipe’s food intake.

Jack snipes are crepuscular, feeding at dusk after resting during daylight. Night-time hunting is not uncommon and they are thought to rely on bright moonlight to aid their nocturnal foraging.

What do Jack Snipe chicks eat?

Young jack snipes are fed by both parents until they reach independence a short while after fledging at around 20 days. Their diet matches that of adult jack snipes, invertebrates, larvae and crustaceans, as well as plant matter, including grasses and seeds.

Jack Snipe foraging for insects and worms beneath the water surface

Jack Snipe foraging for insects and worms beneath the water surface

Habitat & Distribution

What is the habitat of a Jack Snipe?

Habitats and landscapes favoured by jack snipes for breeding include marshland, bogs, tundra and wet meadows with short vegetation. In winter, mudflats and freshwater wetlands with dense vegetation provide ideal foraging spots for visiting jack snipes.

What is the range of a Jack Snipe?

Jack snipes breed across northern Europe and northern Russia. Outside of the breeding season, they can be found throughout Britain, in Atlantic and Mediterranean coastal regions of Europe, and as far afield as Africa, and India.

Where do Jack Snipes live?

Overwintering jack snipes can be seen across the UK between late September and February to March, with the exception of upland areas.

Wetlands, including river edges, lagoons, reedbeds and mudflats record the most sightings, with parts of Scotland and northern England attracting large numbers of visiting birds due to their geographical location on their migration route from Scandinavia.

Late September through to March are the best times to see overwintering Jack Snipes in the UK

Late September through to March are the best times to see overwintering Jack Snipes in the UK

How rare are Jack Snipes?

In the UK, the common snipe (Gallinago gallinago) is far more common than the jack snipe, and is present all year round. To see a jack snipe is relatively rare, due to its cleverly camouflaged plumage and preference to forage out of sight in boggy wetland vegetation.

Around 50,000 to 100,000 jack snipes spend winter on British shores, but despite these numbers, a sighting would still be considered quite a coup due to their secretive nature.

Where can you see Jack Snipes in the UK?

Many birdwatchers head to Glasgow in the hope of spotting a jack snipe, where several sightings of the species are regularly recorded in the city’s wetlands, particularly during the autumn.

Local ringing efforts are recording visiting numbers and researching fidelity to wintering grounds, and report up to 50 birds each winter across the local region.

Jack Snipe well camouflaged in its natural wetland habitat

Jack Snipe well camouflaged in its natural wetland habitat

Lifespan & Predation

How long do Jack Snipes live?

Typical lifespan of a jack snipe is thought to be from between 5 and 10 years. Ringing records include an individual jack snipe that reached 12 years and 3 months. Juvenile birds breed for the first time at one year.

What are the predators of Jack Snipes?

Humans pose one of the greatest risks to the survival of jack snipe populations, with hunting during autumn migration common across parts of Europe. Poisoning from lead shot is also a major concern.

Are Jack Snipes protected?

Jack snipes are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, against being hunted, killed, injured or captured. Knowingly damaging or destroying their eggs or nest sites is also illegal under this legislation.

While the jack snipe is protected in England, Scotland and Wales, in Northern Ireland it is on the list of quarry birds that can be hunted during the annual open shooting season.

Are Jack Snipes endangered?

Jack snipes are classified as a green species on the UK Red List for bird species of conservation concern, and their wintering population numbers are steady and stable. During the 1980s, hunting for sport was a major issue, but is now outlawed in England, Scotland and Wales.

Jack Snipe hiding in its typical squatting position from intruders

Jack Snipe hiding in its typical squatting position from intruders

Nesting & Breeding

Where do Jack Snipes nest?

Typical nest sites for jack snipes include ground-level reeds, floating vegetation and sometimes on dry land, in waterside vegetation. Nests are formed from roughly scraped ground and are lined with grasses and feathers.

What do Jack Snipe eggs look like?

Jack snipe eggs are olive-buff to dark brown in colour and are dotted with dark chestnut and pale tan spots. Most clutches contain four eggs, although sometimes only three are laid, and while one brood a season is most common, sometimes a second brood is successfully raised.

Eggs measure 38 mm by 27 mm (1.5 in by 1.1 in) and weigh 14 g (0.5 oz). Incubation lasts from 21 to 24 days, with young jack snipe ready to fledge after 19 to 20 days.

Do Jack Snipes mate for life?

Believed to be monogamous for the duration of a breeding season, jack snipes form pairs after the male advertises his availability in a series of plunging aerial courtship displays above his chosen territory.

Jack Snipe feeding by the water

Jack Snipe feeding by the water


Are Jack Snipes aggressive?

Territorial displays are common at the start of the breeding season, with impressive bursts of aerial swirling flight, but outside of this period, Jack Snipes are not considered aggressive and are not at all vocal.

Jack snipes are furtive, solitary birds that crouch down when disturbed and attempt to blend into their surroundings, rather than noisily drawing attention to themselves and putting themselves in danger.

Loose groups of up to five birds are not uncommon, but most sightings record lone birds.


Do Jack Snipes migrate?

Jack snipes are a migratory species and are present in Britain during winter months, but do not breed here. Breeding takes place across northern Europe and northern Russia between March and September.

Jack snipes then head south-west across Europe to reach their wintering grounds, and can be seen in the UK from late September to early March each year.

Jack Snipe its freeze pose

Jack Snipe its freeze pose


Why do Jack Snipe bob?

Bobbing is a fascinating behaviour trait seen in jack snipes, and their springy, bouncing movements are thought to disturb invertebrates living beneath the ground, causing them to rise to the surface, making them easier to catch and eat.

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Quick Facts


Scientific name:

Lymnocryptes minimus


Sandpipers, snipes and phalaropes

Conservation status:




18cm to 25cm


30cm to 41cm


33g to 73g

Similar birds to a Jack Snipe

Other birds in the Sandpipers, snipes and phalaropes family

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