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Snowy Sheathbill – Chionis alba

Other names: American Sheathbill; Yellow-billed Sheathbill; Greater Sheathbill; Sore-eyed Pigeons; Paddy; Hens with attitude; Mutts; Sh*t Chicken.

Spanish: Paloma Antarctica
German: Weissgesicht Scheidenschnabel
French: Grand Bec-en-Fourreau

Just two species of Sheathbill are in the Chionididae Family. Both species are geographically isolated. They belong to the Genus Chionis.

(The other Sheathbill is the Black-faced Sheathbill (Chionis minor), also known as Lesser Sheathbill are found in the sub-Antarctic Islands of the Indian Ocean. This species has totally black bill and leg colour, although variable, is different being black to pinkish-white. There are four sub-species of Black-faced Sheathbills recognised – differences being in the shape of the sheath and the colour of facial wattles and their legs.)

sheathbill dispute
sheathbill dispute

sheathbill head
sheathbill head

watchful sheathbill
watchful sheathbill

During the breeding season Snowy Sheathbills can be found round the rocky shorelines of the Antarctic Peninsula, South Shetlands, South Orkneys and South Georgia. Non breeding birds and during the winter (of the Southern Hemisphere) birds are found in the south east of South America – Patagonia, Uruguay, the Falklands and occasionally as far north as Brazil. Ship assisted birds have made South Africa and Europe.

sheathbill amongst gentoos
sheathbill amongst gentoos

sheathbill in the ice
sheathbill in the ice

sheathbill on one leg
sheathbill on one leg

Status: Not Globally Threatened

Population consists of approximately 10,000 pairs

Range: Sub-Antarctic Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula. Birds in south of range migrate to South America and the Falkland Islands to winter. Ship assisted vagrants have reached Europe.

Only species in Antarctica not to have webbed feet

sheathbill footprints
sheathbill footprints

sheathbill feet
sheathbill feet

Have an interesting little ‘mutt – mutt – mutt’ call

Birds regularly roost on one leg, often hopping around rather than using two legs.

Omnivorous – steals krill, fish, eggs and small chicks from breeding penguins – also eat carrion, faeces, algae and invertebrates – limpets are common

Breeding coincides with penguins and cormorants from whom they steal

Most fights are during the courtship period

Most conspicuous display is the ‘bowing ceremony’ used in, during and after pair formation.

Normally nests in a crevice or under a rock

Usually lay 2 – 3 eggs

Incubation is shared by both adults and takes between 28 and 32 days.

Fledging between 50 and 60 days.

Downy young are clearly recognisable

Absent from breeding sites from April to October

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