- Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution
- Breeding Habitat
- Population Abundance
- Literature Cited
A regular breeding resident and migrant; regular in winter, when it is most commonly found along open waters in southern Minnesota and occasionally farther north. The Wilson’s Snipe was a common species during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA).
The Wilson’s Snipe’s breeding range extends across much of Canada and the northern tier of states from the Pacific Northwest, where it resides year-round, east through the northern Great Plains, Great Lakes region, and New England. It reaches some of its highest breeding densities in the grasslands of North Dakota, Manitoba, and Alberta (Figure 1).
Ranked as a species of Least Concern by the U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan Partnership and assigned a Continental Concern Score of 9/20 by Partners in Flight. Wilson’s Snipe is a hunted species in the United States and Canada.
Although some birds overwinter, the majority of birds are medium- to long-distance migrants that winter from the southern United States to northern South America.
Their impressively long bills are used to probe wet soils for a variety of invertebrates; larval insects are particularly important.
A shallow ground depression lined with grasses; some grasses or small shrubs may form a canopy.
Roberts’s 1932 account of the Wilson’s Snipe provided little clarity about the species’ status in the state. Noting that the bird was an abundant spring and fall migrant, he added, “a considerable number remain to nest throughout the state.” Further into the account he wrote, “Wilson’s Snipe nests rather uncommonly throughout Minnesota.” Most of the account, however, is a description of the bird’s spectacular courtship flight and provides little additional information on the species’ distribution and abundance. At the time of his writing, nests had been found in only 3 counties: Hennepin, Polk, and Sherburne. The behavior of adults heard and observed at sites in Anoka, Pine, and Kittson Counties also suggested the birds were breeding nearby. Together the records suggested a rather broad distribution, at least through the central and northwestern regions of the state.
In 1975 Green and Janssen provided additional clarification, writing that the species, then known as the Common Snipe, could be found statewide but was most abundant in the north-central region and in adjacent counties to the east. Far fewer reports were available from the southeast and southwestern corners of the state. They added 8 counties to Roberts’s list of counties where nesting had been confirmed: Aitkin, Anoka, Martin, McLeod, Mille Lacs, Nicollet, Ramsey, and Winona. Janssen (1987) included a distribution map in his updated account that depicted the species’ range as confined largely to counties north of the Minnesota River. He also delineated 11 counties where nesting had been confirmed since 1970; all but 1 (Goodhue) were north of the Minnesota River: Aitkin, Beltrami, Crow Wing, Goodhue, Lake, Marshall, Mille Lacs, Polk, Stearns, St. Louis, and Wadena. Hertzel and Janssen (1998) later added 5 additional counties to the list, again all north of the Minnesota River: Kandiyohi, Morrison, Otter Tail, Pennington, and Wilkin.
The Minnesota Biological Survey (MBS), which began fieldwork in the late 1980s, reported a total of 687 breeding season locations for the species. The highest density of records was in the Tallgrass Aspen Parklands Province followed by the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province. Although records were sparse south of the Minnesota River, they were most common in the Prairie Coteau region of southwestern Minnesota (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 2015).
MNBBA participants reported 1,728 Wilson’s Snipe records in 23.5% (1,122/4,784) of the surveyed atlas blocks and in 27.1% (633/2,337) of the priority blocks. Breeding evidence was documented in 17 blocks (Figures 2 and 3; Table 1). The birds were observed in 70 of Minnesota’s 87 counties (1 block straddled Nicollet and Le Sueur Counties) and were confirmed breeding in 13 counties, all north of the Minnesota River. Five of the counties where nesting was confirmed were new to Hertzel and Janssen’s list (1998): Big Stone, Kanabec, Koochiching, Lake of the Woods, and Roseau. Overall, the Wilson’s Snipe was most abundant in northern Minnesota, from the Tallgrass Aspen Parklands Province east throughout the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province. MNBBA records indicated that although the species is sparsely distributed in southern Minnesota, when present, the birds are most frequently encountered south of the Minnesota River along the South Dakota border. The dense cluster of atlas records in northern St. Louis County was contributed by MNBBA volunteer Steve Wilson, who was driven to assess how much of the local landscape was occupied by snipe. Clearly that region of the state, with its extensive wet meadows and peatlands, provides ideal habitat for the species!
Observations by resource professionals and birders alike over the past 100 years have added considerable clarity to Roberts’s original, rather vague description of the snipe’s distribution and abundance in Minnesota. It is difficult, however, to discern if there have been any significant changes in that time period.
East of Minnesota, the southern periphery of the species’ breeding range appears to be receding. The decline in southern Wisconsin began as early as the late 19th century but continues today (Cutright et al. 2006). In Ontario there was a significant decline in the number of observations in three of the province’s most southern regions, including a 44% decline in the Carolinian region (Cadman et al. 2007). In Michigan, the number of observations during the state’s second atlas declined by 40%, the greatest decline occurring in the southern Lower Peninsula (Chartier et al. 2013). Increased development and wetland drainage appear to be contributing to range contractions. West of Minnesota, however, Wilson’s Snipes are faring quite well throughout the northern Great Plains, where populations are significantly increasing, including in nearby South Dakota (Drilling et al. 2016; Sauer et al. 2017).
Although the Wilson’s Snipe has long been considered a species with a statewide distribution, the MNBBA predicted distribution map predicts the highest breeding densities are found in the Tallgrass Aspen Parklands Province of northwestern Minnesota, especially in eastern Kittson and western Roseau Counties (Figure 4). Scattered pockets of abundance are found throughout the western region of the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province as well, with a concentration of birds in the Pine Moraines and Outwash Plains Subsection. The area of the 2007 Ham Lake fire north of Grand Marias is a site with especially suitable habitat.
*Note that the definition of confirmed nesting of a species is different for Breeding Bird Atlas projects, including the definition used by the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas, compared with a more restrictive definition used by the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union. For details see the Data Methods Section.