Australian Bush Birds
Lathams Snipe  -  Gallinago hardwickii
Lathams Snipe
Lathams Snipe with distinctive, but not unique, long tapering bill. This migratory bird breeds in Japan then flies to Australia for the southern summer, leaving to return to Japan in March and April.
Lathams Snipe Lathams Snipe
Left. Underside is mainly white with darker flecks.
Right. The long bill and large, dark eye, set high in the head are useful identification characteristics.
map map Lathams Snipe - Gallinago hardwickii - (28 to 30 centimetres) has upper parts and shoulders buff-barred, streaked and blotched black; there is a pair of broad dusky stripes over the crown. Flight feathers are dark brown. Tail is black with broad ochre band tipped white. Undersurface is creamy white, washed brown and flecked black on the throat and upper breast and flanks. Eye is dark brown, bill olive-brown. Legs and feet olive-grey. Adult male and female are similar in appearance, immatures are similar to adults.

Lathams Snipe breed in June and July in Japan; after breeding gather in large numbers on shores of local lakes before leaving for Australia in August to September arriving at Cape York as their entry point into Australia in the latter half of August. Then they spread along the eastern part of the continent, reaching Tasmania by mid-September. Most spend the southern summer in Tasmania and south-eastern Australia (between south east Queensland and south-eastern South Australia), some get as far west as the Eyre Peninsula.

Lathams Snipe - page 2
They mostly remain in coastal and sub-coastal region but there is substantial inland movement through the Murray-Darling system.

Preferred habitat is soft, wet ground or shallow water with tussocks or green or dead growth; wet parts of paddocks, seepage below dams, irrigated areas, scrub or open woodland from sea level to alpine bogs over 2000 metres elevation, samphire on salt marshes, and mangrove fringes. Saline estuaries and mud-flats are rarely occupied.

They disperse singly through favoured habitats in Australia; they are wary birds and possibly partly nocturnal. By day they spend much time under tussocks and other low vegetation, often far from water. Frequently they remain stationary until the last minute when disturbed, then they burst up with a harsh croak weaving away at low height to drop back into cover in a hundred metres or so.

When feeding, usually at dawn and dusk, they walk rapidly along pushing the bill vertically into the mud with an action described as "sewing machine motion". They eat beetles, other insects, invertebrates and plant material. Drainage and flood mitigation may have caused a decline in numbers in recent years.

In March and April they begin leaving to go to Japan for breeding. There is no sign of large flocks forming; instead they leave in one and twos.

Also known as Australian or Japanese Snipe. Very similar in appearance to the Pin-tailed Snipe (Gallinago stenura) and Swinhoe's Snipe (Gallinago megalaa) which are mostly found along the west/north-west and north coast respectively.