Swinhoe’s and Pintail (or SWINTAIL!) Snipes are undoubtedly one of the hardest bird twins on this planet to identify in the field. For many years, I’ve been observing snipes in my local patch in Chiang Mai and could only confirm few records of Swinhoe’s. A lot more had to be left unidentified even when seen in extremely good view because the only reliable identification point is the shape of their outer tail feathers or the ‘pins’ that are normally well hidden under the larger tail feathers and undertail coverts. Only when the bird is sunbathing, preening, stretching or landing, that we might get a chance to see this critical feature.
This photo was forwarded to me by Philip Round. It shows 2 Swinhoe’s Snipes; male on the right and female on the left according to what he wrote (“I thought you might be interested in seeing this picture of the tails of two Swinhoe’s Snipe in the hand (female Left, male right), taken, I think, in Australia.”). It was something new and interesting to me to know that there is a difference between male and female snipes. As you can see, male bird has overall blackish pins with contrasting white tips, while female’s are pale and mottled brown. It also seems that the male is a little larger than the female too.
I also got a link to a great study of Swinhoe’s and Pintail Snipes in Hong Kong by Paul J. Leader and Geoff J. Carey from Dave Bakewell’s post on Possible Latham’s Snipe in Sabah, which showcases some really nice photos of both species in hand showing some characteristics which are helpful for identification. It seems that juveniles of both species share the same outer tail feathers pattern as what Philip identified as female too. You can read the full article here.
I also got this photo from Philip. It shows the outer tail feathers of a Pintail Snipe caught and ringed at Laem Phak Bia, Thailand. As you can see, the pins are much narrower than those of the Swinhoe’s. I can’t be sure about the age and sex of this bird though, but I guess it’s an adult female according to the clean white tips (mostly pale rufous tinged in juvenile) and relatively pale brownish tone of the pins.