Rostratulidae: Painted Snipes

Painted snipe are three distinctive wader species placed together in their own family Rostratulidae. They are short-legged, long-billed birds similar in shape to the true snipes, but much more brightly colored.

The female is brighter than the male and takes the lead in courtship. The male incubates the eggs, usually four, in a nest on the ground or floating for about 20 days.

All three species live in reedy swamps, and their diet consists of annelid worms and other invertebrates, which they find with their long bills.

Species of Painted Snipe

– The Greater Painted Snipe (Rostralata benghalensis) is found in marshes in Africa, India and South-east Asia.

– The Australian Painted Snipe (Rostratula australis) is a rare, nomadic and declining species found only in Australia (More recently it has been shown that the differences between these taxa warrant recognition at the species level. Compared with the Greater Painted Snipe, the Australian Painted Snipe:

  • has a longer wing, shorter bill and shorter tarsus
  • has a chocolate brown, rather than rufous, head and neck in the female
  • has round, rather than flat and visually barred, spots on the tail (female) and upper wing-coverts (male)
  • apparently lacks a call

Description: Head, neck and upper breast chocolate brown (male dark grey with buff median stripe on crown), fading to rufous in centre of hindneck and merging to dark, barred grey of back. Cream comma-shaped mark around eye. Diagnostic white stripe on side of breast and over shoulders. Grey upperwing (male with buff spots). White lower breast and underbody. Males generally slightly smaller and less bright than females. Juveniles similar to adult males.

The Lesser Painted Snipe ( Nycticryptes semicollaris), inhabits grassy marshland in southern South America.

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