Once an important game bird for sport and table, today the snipe is for many Americans a bird invented for children’s pranks (I believe this is not so in most other parts of the world). So when I encounter references where the bird appears with no background explanation in popular period fiction, it still fascinates me that the snipe could have morphed in a mere couple of generations into mythological creature.
Reading “The Mysterious Island” by Jules Verne this spring, I found myself actually surprised when I read the word “snipe”. This work is quite amazing in the detail which Verne describes the geology, flora and fauna of the island where five men find themselves castaway. Making a complete scan of the books reveals eight distinct references to snipe as game bird bound for their table, of which I include a few for consideration here.
“Above the aquatic plants, on the surface of the stagnant water, fluttered numbers of birds. Wild duck, teal, snipe lived there in flocks, and those fearless birds allowed themselves to be easily approached.” (page 284)
“On the 3rd of August an excursion which had been talked of for several days was made into the southeastern part of the island, towards Tadorn Marsh. The hunters were tempted by the aquatic game which took up their winter quarters there. Wild duck, snipe, teal and grebe abounded there, and it was agreed that a day should be devoted to an expedition against these birds.” (page 464)
“As it was easy to land, the usual hunters of the colony, that is to say, Herbert and Gideon Spilett, went for a ramble of two hours or so, and returned with several strings of wild duck and snipe. Top [their dog] had done wonders, and not a bird had been lost, thanks to his zeal and cleverness.” (page 596)
While obviously not the focus of the book, Jules Verne’s inclusion of snipe in his detailed description of the Mysterious Island’s fauna is a bonus for the snipe enthusiast, and is certainly well-qualified adventure reading to pass the time until our own next adventures.