There are five sub-species of the New Zealand snipe, two of which are extinct. There is the Stewart Island snipe, iredalei which became extinct on Jacky Lee Island when Weka were introduced and on Big South Cape Island when Rattus rattus got ashore in 1964. The Little Barrier snipe barrierensis is known only from one caught on Little Barrier Island in 1870. The remaining three sub species are huegeli on the Snares Islands, meinertzhagenae on the Antipodes Islands and aucklandica on the Auckland Islands. In addition there is the Chatham Island snipe Coenocorypha pusilla. The entire population is estimated at a healthy 20,000 individuals.
The Campbell Island snipe, discovered in 1997, was restricted to a tiny and almost inaccessible rock, Jacquemart Islet, off Campbell Island. Since rats have been erradicated on Campbell Island through a massive effort by the New Zealand government, snipe have begun to recolonize the Campbell Island.
Snipe nest on the ground, are very tame and rarely fly, so are extremely vulnerable to predators such as cats, rats and Wekas.
Snipe are a small wading bird, just slightly larger than a blackbird. Their maori name of Tutukiwi gives an indication of how they look - with their stout legs and long bill making them appear as a mini Kiwi. Snipe were once widespread around the New Zealand mainland and offshore islands, but rapidly disappeared as rats and other introduced predators invaded their sanctuaries.
The snipe has a distinctive courtship display. At night, males dive vertically from considerable heights. Their tails vibrate and make a sound like a bird many times their size. This noise lead to the stories of the Hakawai, a huge mythical bird. While Snares snipe have never been recorded as making the hakawai noise, there is strong evidence that they do in fact carry out the special courtship flight, and that it was probably a case of no one being on the island at the right time to hear it.
Other common names: —
23 cm., 105 g., brown with long slightly drooping bill, head with stripe from forehead to nape. Chatham Island snipe smaller.
Where to find: —
Snares, Antipodes, Chatham, Auckland Islands.
Illustration description: —
Buller, Walter Lawry, Birds of New Zealand, 1888.
Heather, B., & Robertson, H., Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand, 2000.
Oliver, W.R.B., New Zealand Birds, 1955.
Page date & version: —
Tuesday, 20 May 2014; ver2009v1