Sheathbill: The Most Peculiar Bird of the Whole Peculiar Continent

Much is made of Antarctica’s incredible wildlife: throngs of krill; seals piled together like rolls of carpet; regiments of penguins; whales puffing clouds into the sky. But there’s a creature arguably more incredible right outside our door here at Palmer Station. In fact, if you leave the door open by mistake, it’s likely to come inside and have a look around. It’s a bird called a snowy sheathbill, and some call it the largest land animal in Antarctica.

It hurries toward you on stout gray legs, looking like a cross between a pigeon and a chicken. It seems fearless as it walks to within a yard of you and looks up with an inquisitive black eye. Or you’ll glance up to find a pair of them waiting on the eaves of a building, as if holding on to the silent knowledge that eventually, you will drop something edible.

They’re such a constant presence here that they’re like honorary staff members, and the people who work here have developed a mixture of bemusement, tolerance, and admiration for them. Although they do wish they wouldn’t poop so much. Click through the slideshow to learn more about this singular animal and its contribution to station life:

The Largest Land Animal in AntarcticaWhat We Throw Away, They EatWe Started Calling It Zodiac Number 2Steady FeetSheathbill LoveThe Noble Sheathbill  A Late-Season SurpriseMake That a Double
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  1. Kaitlyn February 1, 2015 at 4:59 pm #

    Hi. Its Kaitlyn again. Has any of these animals interfered with the system, and how would you fix it?

    • Hugh Powell February 2, 2015 at 11:23 am #

      Hi Kaitlyn, I’m not sure what you mean by “the system.” Do you mean are the sheathbills interfering with some of the machinery here at Palmer Station? As far as know the only thing they interfere with is the garbage—if scraps are left where the sheathbills can find them, they will rummage through them and take things that look edible or otherwise interest them. The way we fix it is by being careful to keep our garbage tidied up and behind closed doors. Thanks for your question – Hugh