Australian painted snipe (Rostratula australis)

GenusRostratula (1)
SizeLength: 24 - 30 cm (2)
Wingspan: 50 - 54 cm (2)
Weight125 - 130 g (2)

The Australian painted snipe is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The handsome Australian painted snipe (Rostratula australis) is one of Australia’s least known shorebirds. Although originally considered to be same species as the greater painted snipe (Rostratula benghalensis) of Africa and Asia, recent studies have indicated genetic and morphological differences that have led to the Australian painted snipe being classed as a separate species (3).

The female Australian painted snipe is larger and more colourful than the male, with a deep chocolate-brown head, a white ring around the eye, and a white stripe extending down the centre of the crown. The back and wings are metallic green, barred with black and chestnut. A pale stripe extending from the shoulder into a ‘V’ down the upper back completes the plumage pattern of these beautiful waders. The male painted snipe is slightly smaller and duller than the female, lacking the rich brown colouring on the head, nape and throat, and having buff spots on the wings (4).

The distribution of the Australian painted snipe consists of scattered sightings across the wetlands of Australia, with the majority of reports from the eastern states of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria (5) (6).

The Australian painted snipe inhabits both freshwater and brackish wetlands, such as lakes, swamps and saltmarsh, as well as modified habitats, such as sewage farms and dams (6) (7). During the breeding season, nests are constructed in areas that provide a certain degree of cover, typically amongst dense vegetation, such as tall grasses, or at the base of tussocks and bushes (7) (8).

A crepuscular bird, the Australian painted snipe has an omnivorous diet, feeding on vegetation, seeds, insects, worms, molluscs, crustaceans, and other invertebrates. While it will occasionally forage over mudflats and other open areas, it generally remains in dense cover while feeding. During the day, the Australian painted snipe rests quietly under dense cover, such as grass and reeds (7).

The Australian painted snipe is generally seen singly or in pairs, although flocks may form during the breeding season, when adults sometimes congregate in loose gatherings around a group of nests (7). Breeding is thought to occur in response to weather conditions rather than during a particular season, as there are records of the Australian painted snipe breeding in every month (7). However, in southern Australia breeding is typically recorded between August and February, while it is usually earlier in the north (6).

The female Australian painted snipe is thought to mate with more than one male. Three to four eggs are laid, and it is the male that is responsible for incubating the eggs and caring for the chicks (6).

Australian painted snipe numbers are believed to be declining, primarily due to the loss of their wetland habitat. Since European settlement, an estimated 50 percent of Australian wetlands have been modified for human land use. Drainage and diversion of the water in these wetlands have rendered them unsuitable for the Australian painted snipe and constitute the primary threat to this species (3) (6).

Other threats to the Australian painted snipe include habitat degradation through cattle grazing and trampling, and the introduction of invasive weed species (6) (8).

As little is known about the Australian painted snipe, conservation efforts have focused on improving knowledge of the species through assessing its habitat preferences, developing a database of records, and conducting annual surveys. In conjunction with this, a number of supplementary measures have also been proposed, such as protecting habitat used by the Australian painted snipe and monitoring its population at the landscape scale (4) (6).

Find out more about the Australian painted snipe and its conservation:

Learn more about the conservation of Australian birds and about wetland conservation in Australia:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2011)
  2. Birds Australia - Australian Painted Snipe (April, 2011)
  3. Lane, B.A. and Rogers, D.I. (2000) The taxonomic and conservation status of the Australian painted snipe Rostratula (benghalensis) australis. Stilt, 36: 26-34.
  4. Australian Government - Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (2011) Rostratula australis. In: Species Profile and Threats Database. Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Canberra. Available from:
  5. Barrett, G., Silcocks, A., Barry, S., Cunningham, R. and Poulter, R. (2003) The New Atlas of Australian Birds. Birds Australia, Melbourne, Victoria.
  6. BirdLife International - Australian painted snipe (November, 2011)
  7. Marchant, S. and Higgins, P.J. (1993) Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds. Volume 3: Snipe to Pigeons. Oxford University Press, Melbourne, Victoria.
  8. Rogers, D., Hance, I., Paton, S., Tzaros, C., Griffioen, P., Herring, M., Jaensch, R., Oring, L., Silcocks, A. and Weston, M. (2005) The breeding bottleneck: breeding habitat and population decline in the Australian painted snipe. In: Straw, P. (Ed.) Status and Conservation of Seabirds in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. Proceedings of the Australasian Shorebirds Conference 13-15 December 2003, Canberra, Australia.