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The Snowy Sheathbill is undoubtedly one of Antarctica’s most interesting birds, and here’s why.
1) It is the only bird in Antarctica that doesn’t make its living directly from the sea. Instead it takes it indirectly through other animals! When it’s not stealing penguin chicks and eggs, it is stealing food straight out of the mouths of the mother penguins. Penguins (like the chinstrap and gentoo) feed their chicks with regurgitated food (mostly krill) and the Sheathbill specializes in harassing penguins til they throw up their food on the ground! Then the Sheathbills go and peck it up. (This makes them a “kleptoparasite”.) In winter, when the penguin colonies are inactive, they survive by eating the poop of seals and other birds! Yum!
2) They are the only birds in Antarctica without webbed feet. That’s because they are the only ground birds on the continent! Their un-webbed feet make them excellent runners and poor swimmers.
3) The Sheathbills (comprised of the Snowy Sheathbill and the Black-faced Sheathbill) are the only bird family that is endemic to the Antarctic and Sub-Antarctic regions. (Endemic means it can only be found in that area)
4) It’s named after that weird sheath that covers up the base of its bill, and most of its nostril. What’s it for? Who knows! Maybe it helps cover up the stink of that nasty food they’re eating!
Photo taken at the Chilean Base, Gonzalez Videla Station. Paradise Bay, Antarctic Peninsula. Antarctica