Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Dancing Snipe Conundrum

It all started with a silly viral video. This viral video:
Not much to see. A cute bird strutting to the beat of some Daft Punk coming out of the windows of a nearby car. That was not what began the conundrum, however. It was the explanation that accompanied the video, a claim that the bird in question was, in fact, a snipe.
My first reaction was to scoff, “snipes aren’t real!”
My second was to search just to make sure.
A sparse wikipedia article did not do much to confirm or deny the theory. Of the three small sections it contained, one was dedicated to my own knowledge of the mythical bird: snipe hunting.
Snipe hunting was a huge joke for those who were in on it and an embarrassing memory for those who were not. “Dude, you’ve never heard of snipe hunting? We should go this weekend!” The “experienced” hunters would give the first-timers a bag with which to catch the elusive prey, and take them out into the night, claiming excitedly to see the birds and attempting to chase them into the waiting hands and bag of the unenlightened hunter. Bruised, scratched, and empty-handed, the discouraged hunter returned home with his friends, who finally revealed, laughing, that there never was any snipe, and the whole thing was just to make him look foolish.
The wikipedia article even claimed that the word “sniper” was given to military sharp shooters because the unusual flight path of the bird makes it very hard to hit.
Despite finding a link to a reputable-looking bird watcher website which had many pictures and videos of its own, I still felt that the internet was trying to trick me. I was determined not to be left standing in the middle of a field in the dark, holding a bag while the entire internet laughed at the fact that I’d bought into the idea of a fictitious bird.
The only thing left for me to do was to contact the finest ornithologist-without-an-ornithology degree in the world: my grandmother. I left her a long phone message about my confusion, and went for information at the next best source.
“I think they’re real,” said my mother.
“I want Grandma and one of her books!” I complained. “I won’t believe it until I see the book or Grandma tells me.”
“I’ve got one of her books,” my mother said, and soon reappeared with The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, which was all the more trustworthy because its red plastic cover was attempting to escape the rest of the book.
“Common Snipe,” the index reported, “pgs 214, 446, 822.” Page 214 held a lovely color photo of the bird I’d already seen in the videos I’d watched. Page 822 revealed that the snipe is still considered a game bird, legal to hunt. Page 446 was the one I would have accepted as Grandma’s truth, for it held a map of the bird’s habitat, and added, “it stays well hidden in ground cover, flushes abruptly, and zigzags sharply in flight.”
Well, fine. I guess a snipe is a real thing. But you’re not going to catch me hunting it with a bag or a gun. But if I ever see one, I’ll definitely crank the radio so that we can dance together.

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