Seedsnipes: Thinocoridae

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SEEDSNIPES: Thinocoridae



Seedsnipes vary from 6 to 12 inches in length (16 to 30 centimeters) and from 1.8 to 14 ounces in weight (50 to 400 grams). They have plump bodies, short, thick bills, and short legs. The wings are long, narrow, and pointed. A membrane, thin layer of skin, covers the nostrils of seedsnipes to protect them from dust storms. Seedsnipes are generally colored to blend into their environments, and may be brown or rust-colored, and barred. Two of the four species have gray heads and necks and black markings on the throat or breast. Seedsnipes have large numbers of feathers to help protect them from cold weather.


Seedsnipes are found in the New World (Western Hemisphere) tropics, occupying the Andes as well as the Patagonian and Peruvian coasts in western and southern South America.


Seedsnipes are found in cold, windswept areas, including rocky slopes, short grasslands, and bogs. They also occupy dry riverbeds and the shores of partly dried-up lakes.


Seedsnipes eat plant material exclusively. This includes buds, leaf tips, some seeds and succulents, plants with fleshy, water-storing stems or leaves. Despite their name, seeds are not a particularly important part of the seedsnipes' diet. Seedsnipes generally feed by biting food off with their bills and swallowing the food whole.


During the nonbreeding season, seed-snipes may be found in flocks of as many as eighty individuals. During the breeding season, however, seedsnipes are usually found in pairs or in smaller groups of five or six. Seedsnipes spend a large part of their day walking slowly, looking for food. When they sense a threat, their first response is usually to turn their backs, which are colored to blend into the environment. Only if the intruder approaches will they walk away or fly away in a zigzag pattern, making loud calls.

Seedsnipes are territorial during the breeding season, with pairs defending areas from other pairs. The female typically lays three or four eggs at a time. The seedsnipe nest is usually a depression in the ground lined with bits of plant material. When neither parent is at the nest, the eggs are covered with soil or nest lining to help hide them and keep them warm. Eggs hatch after about twenty-six days in the least seedsnipe, the only species for which there is information. The chicks are able to leave the nest soon after hatching and quickly become able to feed themselves. However, both parents continue to help protect the young, often pretending to be injured to draw away potential predators and other intruders. Seed-snipes become sexually mature quickly, and are able to reproduce the same season they hatch.


Seedsnipes have little interaction with humans because of their extreme habitat. However, their loud calls sometimes enter the local folklore. Very rarely, they may be hunted.


There is evidence that chicks in some seedsnipe species become sexually mature, able to reproduce, extremely quickly. They mature so quickly, in fact, that they are able to breed the same season they hatched. This is an advantage because in some parts of the seedsnipe range, changing weather patterns means there is particularly abundant food once every four to ten years. Quick maturation enables even the newest chicks to take advantage of this.


No seedsnipes are considered threatened at this time. However, some populations have been affected by hunting and pollution.


Physical characteristics: Rufous-bellied seedsnipes are 10 to 11 inches in length (27 to 30 centimeters) and weigh between 10.6 and 14.1 ounces (300 to 400 grams). The head, neck, back, and breast are barred black, brown, and cream, a pattern that allows individuals to blend in with their environment. The belly is reddish brown or a pink cinnamon in color.

Geographic range: Rufous-bellied seedsnipes are found in the Andes of Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador. They generally occupy high altitudes, of at least 3,300 feet (1,000 meters) in some areas and much higher in other areas.

Habitat: Rufous-bellied seedsnipes occupy rocky slopes and alpine bogs.

Diet: Rufous-bellied seedsnipes eat the buds and leaf tips of cushion plants found in their habitat.

Behavior and reproduction: Rufous-bellied seedsnipes are usually found in pairs or small groups. They make loud calls that are described as cackles. Rufous-bellied seedsnipes are monogamous (muh-NAH-guh-mus), with a single male breeding with a single female. The female lays four eggs at a time into a nest that is usually just a scraped indentation in the ground with little or no lining. When neither parent is incubating, or sitting on, the eggs, they are covered with dirt to help keep them warm and hide them.

Rufous-bellied seedsnipes and people: Rufous-bellied seedsnipes are hunted by local populations. Other than that, there is no significant interaction between rufous-bellied seedsnipes and people.

Conservation status: Rufous-bellied seedsnipes are not currently considered threatened. However, because they are hunted near mines in their range, some populations have been drastically reduced in numbers. ∎



del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott, and J. Sargatal, eds. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol. 3, Hoatzin to Auks. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions, 1996.

Fjeldså, Jon, and Niels Krabbe. Birds of the High Andes. Copenhagen: Zoological Museum, University of Copenhagen, 1990.

Perrins, Christopher, ed. Firefly Encyclopedia of Birds. Buffalo, NY: Firefly Books, 2003.

Web sites:

"Family Thinocoridae (Seedsnipe)." Animal Diversity Web. (accessed on June 1, 2004).

"Seedsnipes." Birds of the World, Cornell University. (accessed on June 4, 2004).

"Thinocoridae (Seedsnipes)." The Internet Bird Collection. (accessed on June 1, 2004).