The Latham’s Snipe lives in meadows of Hokkaido during the summer. A small number of the birds live and breed in highlands of Japan’s main island, Honshu, and on the way to the breeding area they can sometimes be seen in lower marshes. During the breeding season, it flies around calling out in a husky voice. When it dives, it makes a “Goa, goa, goa” sound with its tail. Along with the Common Snipe, which is often seen in paddy fields during the winter, the Latham’s Snipe is called a “ground Snipe” since it lives on the ground in inland areas.
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In Japanese this bird is called ”Oojishigi.” The name has two possible meanings. The first possibility is that since“Ooji”means prince, the bird is a sort of funny-faced prince. The second possibility is that since “Oo-“ means large, it is referring to the fact that the Latham’s Snipe is a larger type of Snipe than the Common Snipe that lives on the ground. The second one is, in fact, correct. The Latham’s Snipe and its relatives stick their bill into the ground and find worms with their bills. The eyes of the Latham’s Snipe are on the back part of its face, so it looks a bit strange, as if it is wearing a gas mask. The eyes are used to look out for danger rather than to find food. In Japan, where the bird breeds, it flies around and calls out with a distinctive voice, declaring its territory in a powerful way while making sounds with its tail. On the other hand, in Australia, where it stays during the non-breeding season, it lives quietly as the Common Snipe does in Japan.
In 2016, the Wild Bird Society of Japan researched how the Latham’s Snipe makes its way to its wintering place in Australia as part of the organization’s initiatives to protect the bird, a near-threatened species in Japan. After receiving permission from authorities, some birds were caught and had transmitters attached to their bodies, and then released. According to the research, one of the birds released from Hokkaido flew south over the Pacific Ocean and reached Papua New Guinea after a six-day flight. Tracing its flight, it was thought to have covered about 5800 kilometers, flying at an average speed of 40 kilometers per hour.
Since only one study has been conducted so far, it cannot be said for sure that most of the birds that breed in Hokkaido fly to the Southern Hemisphere without stopping. As the only known breeding areas of the birds outside Japan are Sakhalin in Russia and a small area of mainland Asia, expectations are high for this research in Japan to be continued.
A Latham’s Snipe dives from the sky with its tail unfolded. As it makes a sound like the roll of thunder when diving, it is also called a “thunder Snipe.”
The plain markings of the Latham’s Snipe and its relatives are the perfect camouflage. They are also hard to find because they tend to be more active at night.