Another Bullmoose mystery solved

The call was haunting. It was kind of fluty "whooo-whoo-whooo-WHOOO-whoo-whoo-whoo" sound with a definite rise and fall cadence. "What is that bird?" Two Deer asked from the yard of Bullmoose Camp last weekend. "I've heard and seen them around my...

The call was haunting.

It was kind of fluty "whooo-whoo-whooo-WHOOO-whoo-whoo-whoo" sound with a definite rise and fall cadence.

"What is that bird?" Two Deer asked from the yard of Bullmoose Camp last weekend. "I've heard and seen them around my house a lot recently too."

The source of the sound was hard to identify. A smallish bird with a white breast, narrow wings and a long bill appeared to making the noise during a high flying aerial display. Sometimes three or four could be in the air at the same time, but they were always a long way off.

"What are those things ...."


Once again the annual spring trip to Bullmoose Camp provided an outdoor mystery to solve.

Spring is such a great time at the camp - migrating waterfowl and raptors, black bear taking their first walkabouts after a long sleep, a chorus of frogs of different varieties providing a constant serenade from the nearby swamp, the haunting call of Sandhill Cranes who have just returned from their wintering grounds.

The woods are alive with so many sights and sounds it's almost overwhelming.

Although the boys at Bullmoose have been avid outdoorsmen for decades it never fails there is always something new to learn come time for the spring trip.

Last year it was a "beep-beeep-beep-beeep-beep" sound that lasted an entire evening, and about drove Wack nuts. Further investigation revealed the source was a saw-whet owl - a really cool bird in its own right.

This year was the high-flying aerial acrobat. Two Deer latched on to this one - it was easy to see he wanted to get to the bottom of this mystery.

It didn't take long to get the message.

Monday morning an e-mail was received: "I've got one thing to say and one thing only .... Wilson's Snipe. Take that!"


A quick computer search of bird sounds revealed Two Deer was right on the money - as usual.

Mystery solved.

According to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology the Wilson's Snipe is a common shorebird of wet and grassy spots. It has an extremely long bill that is issued to probe the mud for small invertebrates.

The bill is also a marvel or engineering in that it is flexible. The tips can be opened and closed with no movement at the base of the bill.

Sensory pits at the tip of the bill allow the snipe to feel its prey deep in the mud. Once the prey - typically larval insects, worms crustaceans and mollusks - are caught the snipe swallows them without withdrawing the bill.

The sound we heard was described as a hollow, low whistle called "winnowing." It is used by the male Wilson's Snipe to defend its territory and attract a mate. It is not a vocal sound, but rather produced by air flowing over the outstretched tail feathers with each wing beat. The outer tail feathers, which are thin and curved, are greatly modified to produce the sound.

Another interesting tidbit - the clutch size of the Wilson's Snipe is almost always four eggs. The male snipe takes the first two chicks to hatch and leaves the nest with them. The female takes the last two and cares for them. Apparently the parents have no contact after that.

Wilson's Snipe are hunted in many areas, including Minnesota. All of the Bullmoose boys could recall flushing the birds in fall, but had never realized they were the same birds that produced the winnowing sound.


The bird may also have been the genesis of the word "sniper," according to Wikipedia.

Since snipe only flush when approached closely and the resulting flight is a series of aerial zig-zags, they are very difficult to bag with shotgun. Snipe hunters, therefore, need to be very skilled and came to be called snipers - a term later adopted by the military.

Another spring trip to deer camp and another mystery solved. What fun and what a glorious time of year to be investigating the deer woods.

And The Boss says we don't accomplish anything on these trips ...ha!

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