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Gallinago nigripennis (African snipe, Ethiopian snipe) 

Afrikaanse snip [Afrikaans]; Umnquduluthi [Xhosa]; uNununde [Zulu]; Nkoko [Kwangali]; Koe-koe-lemao (generic term for sandpiper), Motjoli-matsana [South Sotho]; Afrikaanse snip [Dutch]; Bécassine africaine [French]; Afrikanische bekassine [German]; Narceja-africana [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: Scolopacidae

Gallinago nigripennis (African snipe, Ethiopian snipe)   

African snipe. [photo Callie de Wet ©]


Distribution and habitat

Occurs in patches of sub-Saharan Africa, from Ethiopia through Uganda and eastern DRC to Zambia, Angola and southern Africa. Here it is uncommon to locally common in north-eastern Namibia (including the Caprivi Strip), northern and south-eastern Botswana, central Zimbabwe, small patches of Mozambique and much of South Africa, largely excluding the Northern Cape and Limpopo Province. It generally prefers freshwater and brackish wetlands, such as vleis, marshes, wet grasslands at high altitudes, margins of well-vegetated pans and riparian wetlands around artificial water bodies.

Distribution of African 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.  

Predators and parasites

Movements and migrations

It can be sedentary, locally migratory or nomadic depending on environmental conditions, as for example it is largely absent from Zimbabwe in the period from January-April, when it probably disperses to other adjacent countries. It may also move out of an area if wetlands dry up or otherwise change for the worse.


Its diet mainly consists of annelids, insect larvae, small molluscs, crustaceans and seeds, doing most of its foraging by probing soft mud with its long bill.


  • Monogamous, solitary nester, performing a strange courtship display in which it dives to the ground from a high vantage point, beating its wings against its tail feathers in such a way that it produces a drumming sound.
  • The nest is probably built solely by the female, consisting of a saucer-shaped grass structure placed in a tuft of grass or rushes.
  • Egg-laying season is almost year-round, peaking from March-August in Zimbabwe and July-September in the Limpopo Province and Western Cape.
  • It lays 1-3, usually 2 eggs, which are incubated solely by the female, who is well concealed by the vegetation adjacent to the nest.
  • The chicks are brooded by both parents, probably leaving the nest at roughly 19-20 days old and becoming fully independent soon afterwards.


Not threatened, although previously hunted quite intensively up to the 1940s, the practice decreased in popularity thereafter. However game-bird hunting is now gaining renewed interest, which could be cause for concern.


  • 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.