Great Snipes in sub-Saharan Africa: seasonal patterns of abundance, moult and body mass in relation to age and sex


186 – 196

26 December 17

Edouard J.M. Debayle, Michel Devort, Raymond H.G. Klaassen, Åke Lindström


Åke Lindström
Department of Biology, Lund University, Ecology Building, SE–22362 Lund, Sweden


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Great Snipes Gallinago media spend about eight months per year in sub-Saharan Africa, but most aspects of their non-breeding ecology are poorly known. We analysed the seasonal pattern of appearance, flight feather moult (primaries and secondaries), and body mass in relation to age and sex, based on 3,247 birds collected by hunters in 1990–2000 in Benin, Gabon, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Adult males arrived in Africa from mid-August with a suspended flight feather moult. Adult females on average arrived somewhat later, and were about one month behind in the progress of flight feather moult. The adults of both sexes resumed moult immediately upon arrival. Flight feather moult was generally completed by the end of November in males, and end of December in females. Juvenile Great Snipes arrived later than adults and did not moult their flight feathers. The temporal pattern of occurrence at the different study sites suggests a general relocation of snipes from West Africa to Central Africa in October–December. Body masses did not differ between age groups and were generally low from August to February (155–170 g in males and 165–185 g in females). Males apparently departed northwards from late March to late April, and the females about two weeks later. Prior to departure, body mass increased on average with about 50 g (in both sexes), suggesting a departure fuel load of 31–33% above lean body mass. In periods of high and stable mass increase, fuel was deposited at rates of about 0.8–1.3 g/d (or 0.5–0.8% of lean body mass/d). The heaviest males and females had a total body mass of 242 and 250 g, respectively. This kind of traditional natural history data forms an important complement to the new type of data emerging from modern tracking techniques.