Smallest of snipes, the jack snipe has been declining in Norfolk in recent years. Despite ever increasing numbers of highly alert observers, records submitted to the Norfolk Bird Report are far fewer for some years now. However there is no dependable way of actually recording these birds. They are a widespread winter visitor.
During 1994 jack snipe were recorded at 36 localities in the county. Almost without exception sightings related to ones and twos.
The jack snipe favours thick marsh vegetation and is most likely to be seen when flushed. Typically it rises suddenly and in complete silence very close to the observer, flying briefly with slow and fluttering wing-beats before plunging to the ground with wings closed and only opened as a brake at the last moment.
A close approach may then be made once again, although it is very difficult to see the bird on the ground due to superb camouflage. Jack snipe are usually confined to a particular patch of fen, marsh or swamp from which individuals may be repeatedly put-up. It is on record that examples have been caught by hand and even accidentally trampled. This snipe is often solitary and inconspicuous.
Continental observers describe them feeding and sleeping in the same restricted area. Roost-sites are approached along regularly used winding paths. Those wintering here are doubtless from northern Scandinavia, but the breeding range extends eastwards for hundreds of miles across Russia to distant Siberia.
The mysterious jack snipe is a typical bird of the often water-logged northern taiga, birch and willow country. Here breeding grounds are shared with broad-billed sandpipers and sometimes red-necked phalaropes. During spring display the snipe bob and hover like marionettes before climbing 150 feet or more above ground to perform steep dives often rolling over with half-folded wings before zooming upwards again. And all the time one can hear calls likened to a distant galloping horse.