Could it be a bleating sheep? No, it’s the common snipe.
Research carried out by Professor Roland Ennos has been featured recently on the BBC’s “The One Show” after viewers were asked to identify an unusual sound heard on the moors in the Peak District.
The programme’s reporter said that in the past the sound echoing across the moors had been likened to that of a sheep bleating. In fact it’s the unusual noise made by the male common snipe (Gallinago gallinago), a species of wading bird, during spring to attract a potential mate.
This noise is made in a novel way and is not a vocal sound, but is made by their tail feathers as the birds descend.
Professor Ennos’s research looked into how the snipe make their drumming sound. The research team placed the outer tail feather in a wind tunnel and filmed their movements using a high speed video. The films revealed that the tail feather flaps backwards and forwards, and as the birds dive they can create this ‘drumming’ noise.
Professor Ennos said: “The tail feather has special adaptations, which means it acts just like a flag blowing in the wind, which has not been seen before. By flying fast and making a lot of noise the male birds show prospective mates how fit they are. They dive to increase their speed and make a more attractive high-pitched sound.”