Macaulay Library helps researchers identify new species of snipe

By Kathi Borgmann
South American Snipe

South American Snipe Gallinago paraguaiae

  • Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil

Snipe are not just an urban legend; more than 20 snipe species occur throughout the Americas as well as across the Old World. And researchers just discovered that one of those snipe species in South America might be two different species. New research out this month in the journal Ibis suggests that the South American Snipe (currently considered one species with two subspecies) should be split into two species, a magellanica species in Chile and southern Argentina (including the Falklands/Malvinas) and paraguaiae in much of the rest of South America east of the Andes including northwestern Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Brazil.

Edward Miller from Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada and colleagues examined differences in the calls South American Snipe give while on the ground and the “winnow” sounds they make with their tail feathers during aerial displays. The South American Snipe, Miller and colleagues found, has different vocal and non-vocal sounds across its range. Snipe from Chile and southern Argentina (Gallinago paraguaiae magellanica) have a distinctive stutter sound to their “winnow” displays, whereas the winnow of the Gallinago paraguaiae paraguaiae subspecies is more constant. Breeding season ground calls in the magellanica subspecies are longer and have a higher frequency compared to paraguaiae. Take a listen to the differences.

Breeding ground calls of Galllinago paraguaiae paraguaiae

South American Snipe (South American) Gallinago paraguaiae paraguaiae

  • Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil
Breeding ground calls of Gallinago paraguaiae magellanica. Calls are longer and higher frequency than G.p. paraguaiae.

South American Snipe Gallinago paraguaiae

  • Magallanes, San Gregorio, Chile
Non-vocal winnow display sounds of Gallinago paraguaiae paraguaiae

South American Snipe Gallinago paraguaiae

  • Cojedes, Venezuela
Non-vocal winnow display sounds of Gallinago paraguaiae magellanica. Notice the distinct stuttering quality.

South American Snipe Gallinago paraguaiae

  • Magallanes, San Gregorio, Chile

The proposed split has yet to be formally recognized, but the authors suggest that multiple lines of acoustic evidence support splitting the South American Snipe. Audio recordings in the Macaulay Library and other sound collections are essential pieces for understanding taxonomic differences among species and subspecies. Resources in natural history collections helped make this research possible, but more information is always needed. If you have recordings of snipe in South America, please considering adding them to the archive with an eBird checklist.

Read the paper:

Miller, E. H., J. I. Areta, A. Jaramillo, S. Imberti, and R. Matus (2019). Snipe taxonomy based on vocal and non-vocal sound displays: the South American Snipe is two species. Ibis:  https://doi.org/10.1111/ibi.12795