Drum Kit

Two specially adapted "drumming feathers" from a snipe
Two specially adapted “drumming feathers”

Having shot a few snipe in Norfolk, it was interesting to give them a close inspection during the plucking process. I am in two minds as to which is my favourite sound; it’s a toss-up between a bubbling blackcock and a drumming snipe. Having studied snipe at close quarters last spring and enjoyed the incessant sound of drumming which rings around the Chayne from March to June, I have been keen to see the “drumming” feathers at close hand.

It seems to me (and I’m quite prepared to stand corrected) that only the cock birds have the specially developed drumming feathers. At least, it’s certainly true that only some of the birds have them, because out of three that I plucked, only one had stiff, elongated drummers. They are pretty feathers, striped along their length and strongly reinforced with thick quills which sit very close to the leading edge of the feather in flight – presumably an adaptation which prevents the feather from crumpling up as the snipe dives down to drum. For all that woodcock pins are sought after by shooting folk, I’m surprised that nobody ever gives a thought to the snipe’s carefully adapted drummers.

I see on my calendar that I heard the first snipe drumming on the Chayne on the 25th February last year, so even though it will be a little while before that hair raisingly beautiful sound reaches a crescendo, the first throbs will soon be murmuring around the hill. If you haven’t heard drumming snipe before, there is a great sound recording at the British Library which does quite a good job of capturing the sense of a single bird. But just imagine how much I am looking forward to fifteen or twenty birds making that sound at a time. Snipe are the great unsung heroes of the Chayne – I don’t write about them enough because I see them every day of the year. It would be interesting to really delve into their behaviour this coming year and see what I can learn.


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