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A photo of a Snowy Sheathbill (Chionis albus)
Snowy Sheathbill

Snowy Sheathbill

Chionis albus

The snowy sheathbill, Chionis albus, also known by the evocative names greater sheathbill, pale-faced sheathbill, and paddy, is a bird of stark contrasts and the sole terrestrial avian native to the Antarctic continent. This bird, approximately 380–410 mm in length with a wingspan of 760–800 mm, is cloaked in pure white plumage, save for its distinctively pink, warty face—a visage that has earned it the Latin moniker translating to "snow white."

Identification Tips

When observing the snowy sheathbill, one is struck by its all-white appearance, which stands out against the Antarctic landscape. The bird's pink face, devoid of feathers, is adorned with wart-like caruncles, providing a unique identification marker. Its overall shape and behavior on the ground are also distinctive.

Habitat

The snowy sheathbill is a creature of the cold, making its home in the harsh environments of Antarctica, the Scotia Arc, the South Orkneys, and South Georgia. It is well-adapted to life on the ground in these icy realms.

Distribution

This bird is a true southerner, residing in the Antarctic and its nearby islands. Those living at the most extreme southern latitudes undertake a seasonal migration northward during the Antarctic winter.

Behaviour

The snowy sheathbill is a bird of action, spending a significant portion of its day—86%, to be precise—in the pursuit of sustenance, with the remainder of its time dedicated to rest. It is an opportunistic feeder, engaging in kleptoparasitism and scavenging with equal gusto.

Diet and Feeding

Lacking webbed feet, the snowy sheathbill forages on land, displaying a remarkable dietary flexibility. It is omnivorous, scavenging with an indiscriminate palate that includes carrion, animal feces, and, where available, human refuse. Notably, it engages in kleptoparasitism, pilfering regurgitated krill and fish from penguins feeding their young and will not hesitate to consume penguin eggs and chicks if the opportunity arises. It has even been observed consuming tapeworms from the intestines of chinstrap penguins.

Conservation status

The snowy sheathbill is currently classified as Least Concern by the IUCN, indicating that, for now, this species does not face immediate threats to its survival.

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