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the web of life in southern Africa

Rostratula benghalensis (Greater painted-snipe, Painted snipe) 

Goudsnip [Afrikaans]; Goudsnip [Dutch]; Rhynchée peinte [French]; Goldschnepfe [German]; Narceja-pintada [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Charadriiformes > Family: Rostratulidae

Rostratula benghalensis (Greater painted-snipe, Painted snipe)  Rostratula benghalensis (Greater painted-snipe, Painted snipe)
Greater painted-snipe, South Africa. [photo Johann du Preez ©] Greater painted-snipe, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]
Rostratula benghalensis (Greater painted-snipe, Painted snipe)

Greater painted-snipe juveniles, Nylsvley, South Africa. [photo Warwick Tarboton ©]

Distribution and habitat

Occupies much the Old World, from Australia through Japan and southern Asia to much of sub-Saharan Africa, largely excluding the lowland forest of the DRC and West Africa. In southern Africa it is rare to locally fairly common in Zimbabwe, northern and eastern Botswana, northern Namibia and isolated patches of Mozambique and South Africa. It generally prefers dams, pans and marshy river flood plains, or any waterside habitat with mud and vegetation.

Distribution of Greater painted-snipe in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Movements and migrations

Little known, although it is generally most abundant in southern Africa in summer, from December-March, while it is most common in the Sahel in the period from July-August. This suggests that it migrates north to avoid the dry season.


It mainly eats worms, grasshoppers and crickets (Orthoptera), crustaceans, snails and seeds, doing most of its foraging by probing the mud in search of food.


  • Serially polyandrous, as each female mates with 2-4 males per breeding season, although only one male at any one time helps with incubation and the care of the chicks.
  • The nest is a slight depression in vegetation, concealed by overhanging sedges or grasses; it rarely uses a scrape in open mud flats instead.
  • Egg-laying season is from about July-April, peaking from September-March.
  • It lays 2-5 eggs, which are incubated solely by the male for about 15-19 days, although the female occasionally helps out.
  • The chicks leave the nest about 12 hours after they hatch, sticking close to the male, who provides them with food for at least the first 10 days (at which point they start to forage for themselves). The male may also perform distraction displays if a predator approaches. They fledge at about 30-35 days old, remaining with the male for another 1-2 months.


Probably not threatened, although its Western Cape population has greatly decreased in size since 1980, and is now thought to consist of less than 200 individuals. This is thought to have been caused by development around Cape Town and invasion of flood plains by Bulrushes (Typha capensis), which is a consequence of dampened seasonal flooding due to regulated stream flow.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.