Snowy Sheathbill Chionis albus

  • Order: Charadriiformes
  • Family: Chionidae
  • Monotypic
  • Authors: Emerson D. Fang


Conservation Status

The conservation status of the Snowy Sheathbill is assessed by the IUCN as  of Least Concern. The population is stable and its range and population size have not approached the Vulnerable category (BirdLife International 2010).

Effects of human activity on populations

Though it is not globally threatened and the population considered stable, poisoning from human-chemical waste products may have occurred in some areas in the past (Shirihai 2008).

Sheathbills have been affected very little by humans, except via alien mammals humans have introducd. In general, sheathbills are unafraid of people unless they are molested, and they are very curious and bold. Sheathbills steal unguarded food and pencils from field biologists, and peck at boots to see if they are edible. They are attracted to the scraps and waste from weather stations and research camps, and loiter outside. Occasionally they even wander indoors for food. The result of the availablity of food has caused some Snowy Sheathbills to overwinter at sites from which they usually are absent at that time of year, such as Signy Island and South Georgia (Forster 1996).

Formerly sheathbills were used for food by twentieth century Norwegian whalers on South Georgia, who called them "ptarmigan" and found them quite tasty despite the feeding habits of the Sheathbills. The population was reduced by hunting by 1913, but hunting no longer occurs at the breeding sites. Human interactions with the Snowy Sheathbill is less well-documented in South America, but there does not appear to be any hunting or other population decreasing activities. In the Falklands sheathbills aggregate in harbors and coastal settlements due to extra food sources (Forster 1996).

Recommended Citation

Fang, E. D. (2010). Snowy Sheathbill (Chionis albus), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.