Length: 17 – 19 cm
Wingspan: 38 – 42 cm
Weight: 35 – 75 g
Adult jack snipes have a blackish-brown mantle, upper scapulars, rump and upper tail with a purple and green gloss. They have four conspicuous golden lines that contrast with the darker areas. Their lower scapulars are dark brown with reddish-brown and pale buff markings.
They have brown coverts with pale buff fringes on their upperwings and their flight feathers are dark brown with narrow white tips. The tail is wedge-shaped and dark brown with a darker centre.
Jack snipes have streaked brown underparts, neck, breast and flanks. The rest of their underparts are white and their undertail is streaked with brown. Their underwings are pale grey with light brown streaks.
They have blackish-brown heads with pale flecks and a double pale buff supercilium with a short black stripe above the eyes which continues behind the eyes and joins a dark spot on the lower ear-coverts. Their lores are black and they have a dark line on their lower cheeks. The rest of the face, chin, and throat are pale buff and their hindnecks are mottled grey-brown with pale flecks.
Jack snipes have relatively short bills, that are dull pink with a yellow base and black at the tip. They have dark brown eyes and their legs and feet are pale green, dull yellow, or pinkish-brown.
Male and female jack snipes look similar but the male has a longer tail and wings.
Juveniles resemble adults with white undertail-coverts with paler brown stripes.
During courtship male jack snipes perform aerial displays and make a distinctive sound which sounds a bit like a galloping horse.
Jack snipes breed from May to early September and can produce 2 broods a season. They build their nests in well-hidden sites, on floating bogs, or on dry ground amongst vegetation. The nest is a shallow depression lined with grass and leaves.
Jack snipes lay 3-4 olive-brown eggs with darker markings which are incubated by the female alone for 24 days. Chicks are precocial and can walk soon after hatching. Both parents feed the young which fledge at 21 days and become independent a few days later.
Jack snipes eat worms, insects, small molluscs, and occasionally grass and seeds.
Where to see them
Jack snipes can be seen in the UK in the winter between September and April.
They can be found in lowland wetland areas, on the edges of reedbeds, lagoons, fenland, river edges, and muddy ditches.
Did you know?
Unlike other snipes the jack snipe lacks the pale central stripe on its crown which distinguishes it from other species. It also has four stripes on its sternum instead of two.