Bird O'clock

The Endangered Chatham Islands Snipe: A Fascinating Bird Species Fighting for Survival

The Chatham Islands Snipe, scientifically known as Coenocorypha pusilla, is a unique bird species that is endemic to the Chatham Islands located off the east coast of New Zealand. Despite its small size and cryptic nature, this species is an important part of the island’s ecology and history.


Field Identification

The Chatham Islands Snipe is a small bird, measuring about 16 cm in length, and weighing around 40 grams. It has a short, straight bill and a brownish plumage with white spots.

The wings are rounded, and the tail is short. The legs are long and yellow in color.

Similar Species

The Chatham Islands Snipe can be easily confused with other snipe species, particularly the Subantarctic Snipe and the New Zealand Snipe. However, there are some key differences that can help distinguish them.

The Chatham Islands Snipe has a shorter bill than the Subantarctic Snipe, and a smaller body than the New Zealand Snipe.


The Chatham Islands Snipe has two distinct plumages, the breeding and non-breeding plumages.

Breeding Plumage: During the breeding season, the male Chatham Islands Snipe develops a rufous tinge on its head and neck. The white spots on its plumage are also more prominent during this period.


Breeding Plumage: During the non-breeding season, the male Chatham Islands Snipe loses its rufous tinge and the white spots on its plumage become less prominent. The female Chatham Islands Snipe has a slightly browner plumage than the male throughout the year.


Like all birds, the Chatham Islands Snipe molts its feathers annually. It undergoes a complete molt, during which it replaces all its feathers in a short period.

The Chatham Islands Snipe also undergoes a partial molt in the non-breeding season, during which it replaces some of its feathers.


The Chatham Islands Snipe is a unique bird species that plays an important role in the ecology and history of the Chatham Islands. Despite being a cryptic bird, the Chatham Islands Snipe can be identified through its distinctive features and plumages.

Understanding the life cycle, behavior, and ecology of the Chatham Islands Snipe is essential to conserving this species for future generations. , as the article aims to provide factual information without being conclusive.

Systematics History

The Chatham Islands Snipe, Coenocorypha pusilla, is a bird species endemic to the Chatham Islands, which are located about 800 kilometers east of the New Zealand mainland. The bird belongs to the family Scolopacidae, which are shorebirds commonly referred to as sandpipers, snipes, and curlews.

Geographic Variation

There is some geographic variation in the Chatham Islands Snipe, particularly in body size and plumage coloration. Birds from the main Chatham Island are generally larger than those from the smaller islands.

There are also subtle differences in plumage coloration between the individuals from the different islands, with some having a darker shade of brown than others, but these variations are not recognized as distinct subspecies.


Currently, there are no recognized subspecies for the Chatham Islands Snipe. However, some ornithologists have proposed that the snipe from the Chatham Islands could be separated into two subspecies, one found on the main island, and the other on the smaller satellite islands.

The two populations differ slightly in size, and there are also some color differences. However, genetic data has not supported the differentiation of the Chatham Islands Snipe populations into separate subspecies.

Related Species

The Chatham Islands Snipe is closely related to another New Zealand endemic snipe species, the New Zealand Snipe, Coenocorypha aucklandica. The two species differ in distribution, with the Chatham Islands Snipe being found on the Chatham Islands, while the New Zealand Snipe is found on the main islands of New Zealand.

They also differ in morphology, with the New Zealand Snipe being a larger bird than its Chatham Islands counterpart.

Historical Changes to Distribution

The Chatham Islands Snipe has a unique evolutionary history, having been isolated on the Chatham Islands for thousands of years. However, its distribution has not always been confined to the Chatham Islands.

Historic records indicate that the species was also present on New Zealands main islands and several other offshore islands, most of which are now uninhabited or inhabited only by introduced predators. The Chatham Islands Snipe disappeared from mainland New Zealand around 300 years ago due to the introduction of mammalian predators, particularly rats and stoats.

By contrast, the birds on the Chatham Islands survived on predator-free islands and small islets. Unfortunately, these populations declined drastically due to habitat loss and the introduction of mammalian predators, resulting in the extinction of the Chatham Islands Snipe from most of the islands.

Several translocations of the Chatham Islands Snipe to predator-free islands, particularly those in the Chatham Islands group, have succeeded. The introduction of predators, whether accidental or intentional, remain the main threats to this species’ survival.

Habitat loss due to human activities, such as logging and land development, is another potential threat.


The Chatham Islands Snipe is a unique bird species that is closely related to other snipe species found in New Zealand. Its distribution is currently confined to the Chatham Islands, but historical records suggest it was distributed much more broadly.

Habitat loss and the introduction of mammalian predators have decimated the Chatham Islands Snipe populations, rendering most of the satellites and offshore islands uninhabitable to the bird. Nevertheless, successful translocation efforts to predator-free islands offer hope for the conservation of the species.

, as the article aims to provide factual information without being conclusive.


The Chatham Islands Snipe is a ground-dwelling bird species that requires specific habitat conditions to survive. It is found in a range of habitats on the Chatham Islands, including wetlands, tussock grasslands, shrublands, and forest edges.

The bird’s preference for wetland areas means it is often found near streams and rivers and in swamps. During breeding season, the bird requires suitable nesting ground.

The Chatham Islands Snipe makes its nests on the ground among grasses or in a shallow depression made of plant material. The bird also needs access to mud, which is used to construct the nests.

Chicks require damp ground softened by rain to probe for insects, and the parents need a consistent source of water to be able to moisten the chicks’ food. Adult Chatham Islands Snipes are often solitary birds or pairs and prefer to inhabit areas with dense vegetation, which provides cover from predators and a food source.

Movements and Migration

The Chatham Islands Snipe is largely non-migratory, meaning that it stays within its Chatham Island range throughout its life. The species has a small home range, typically ranging from 1-3 hectares, and usually remains within its home territory.

Juveniles disperse from their natal territories, but the extent of these dispersals is unclear.

During the breeding season, the Chatham Islands Snipe becomes more vocal and active compared to the non-breeding season, where it is typically more cryptic and less noticeable.

Males perform aerial displays during the breeding season to advertise their presence to females and defend their breeding territory.

The Chatham Islands Snipe exhibits some seasonal migration in response to changing environmental conditions, particularly due to variations in food availability.

Rainfall is an essential factor in the snipe’s temporal movements, as it determines the availability of invertebrate food. During the dry season, the birds may be seen foraging in the shoreline for marine invertebrates, and during the wet season, they move back inland to forage on terrestrial invertebrates.

Although the Chatham Islands Snipe does not undertake long-distance migration, the bird is known to traverse short distances across the island, particularly during the non-breeding season. This movement is often in search of food and favorable habitat conditions.

The Chatham Islands Snipe’s movements are also influenced by the introduction of mammalian predators, which have impacted the bird’s distribution substantially.

Habitat loss due to human activities, such as logging and land developments, further reduces the species’ movement as it requires specific habitat conditions to survive.


The Chatham Islands Snipe is a highly non-migratory bird species that lives in a specific habitat. The bird exhibits seasonal movements in search of food and favorable habitat conditions, according to local environmental conditions, particularly rainfall.

Despite its apparent aversion to migration, the Chatham Islands Snipe can move short distances across the island in search of food. The movement of the species is influenced by the introduction of mammalian predators, which have limited its distribution range.

With proper habitat protection, the Chatham Islands Snipe could recover its range and natural behaviors, particularly as predator-free habitats become available on the islands. , as the article aims to provide factual information without being conclusive.

Diet and Foraging


The Chatham Islands Snipe is a ground-dwelling bird that forages by probing the soil with its long bill. It uses its sensitive bill-tip to locate invertebrates, including insects, earthworms, and spiders, in the soil.

The bird also feeds on marine invertebrates, such as small crustaceans.


The Chatham Islands Snipe has an omnivorous diet. One study recorded 98% of the snipe’s diet comprised invertebrates, including insects, spiders, and annelids.

Small crustaceans formed the majority of the remainder of the diet, while plant matter was rarely consumed.

The Chatham Islands Snipe’s foraging activity is timed around the availability of food.

During the wet season, from May to October, the snipe captures invertebrates in wet areas, including swamps, streams, and seashores. In contrast, during the dry season, the bird moves away from wet areas to forage in drier areas for terrestrially dwelling invertebrates.

This shift in food source is in response to the variation in local environmental conditions.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

The Chatham Islands Snipe, like other birds, is an endothermic animal that must regulate its body temperature to maintain metabolic processes. The bird’s metabolism and temperature regulation are highly adapted to its environment and behavior.

The bird reduces its metabolic rate to conserve energy during the non-breeding season, when food sources are scarce and activity levels are typically lower.

To regulate their temperature, the Chatham Islands Snipe behaves similarly to most birds, with some interesting adaptations.

Birds have several strategies for cooling, including panting, cyanosis (increased skin blood flow), and gular fluttering. The Chatham Islands Snipe takes this further with behavior, for example, its inactivity during the day when it is hotter, and its tendency to forage at night or dawn when temperatures are cooler.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior


The Chatham Islands Snipe maintains contact between individuals through vocalizations. The bird has a diverse range of calls, from soft contact calls used when the bird is nearby to loud and explosive “chip-chip” calls that are used during flight or when defending a territory.

The Chatham Islands Snipe’s aerial display includes a loud “bree-up” sound that is made by the male as it flies in a circular route, sometimes up to 20 meters high, before descending through a steep dive. The birds’ vocalizations increase in frequency and complexity during the breeding season, and males may sing more frequently and loudly to advertise their territory to females.

The Chatham Islands Snipe also has lower-frequency calls that are used to communicate with other birds in dense vegetation or areas with a low-frequency soundscape. These calls have been called “chirrup” or “bubs,” and they allow the birds to communicate without attracting the attention of predators.


The Chatham Islands Snipe has a diverse diet that comprises mainly of invertebrates. As an endothermic animal, the bird uses several strategies to regulate its metabolism and body temperature, including reducing its metabolic rate during the non-breeding season and adopting different behavior, for example, foraging at night when temperatures are cooler.

To maintain contact with other individuals and defend its breeding territory, the bird has a range of vocalizations, from soft contact calls to loud “chip-chip” calls and more complex songs. The Chatham Islands Snipe’s aerial display during the breeding season includes impressive acrobatic moves and loud vocalizations.

, as the article aims to provide factual information without being conclusive.



The Chatham Islands Snipe is a terrestrial bird that moves on foot by walking or running in a zigzag manner. The bird’s long bill and sensitive bill-tip allow it to probe the ground for food efficiently.

When threatened, the snipe takes flight with powerful wingbeats, producing a distinctive whirring sound that is produced by the wind passing through the primary feathers.

Self Maintenance

The Chatham Islands Snipe engages in several self-maintenance behaviors, including preening and bathing. Preening involves the bird cleaning its feathers and keeping them in good condition.

Bathing is essential for keeping the bird’s feathers clean and maintaining its insulating properties. The snipe bathes in streams or shallow pools of water, using its wings to generate splashing to dislodge dirt and parasites from its feathers.

Agonistic Behavior

The Chatham Islands Snipe is a solitary bird most of the year and engages in agonistic behavior during the breeding season. Males engage in territorial defense and can attack other male snipes who attempt to invade their territory.

Sexual Behavior

During the breeding season, which typically starts in August, males become more vocal and engage in a series of displays to attract females. Males perform an aerial display that involves flying up to 20 meters high, with a steep dive at the end while producing a loud “bree-up” call.

Females show interest in males by approaching them to mate.


The Chatham Islands Snipe’s breeding season is triggered by rainfall and peaks from August to November. During the breeding season, the male establishes a breeding territory, which it defends against other males.

The breeding territories are typically close to wetland areas, where the snipe can find an abundance of invertebrate food. The Chatham Islands Snipe’s nesting behavior is unknown, as it has not been definitively observed in the wild.

However, the juveniles are known to leave the nest soon after hatching and can walk soon after birth.

Demography and Populations

The Chatham Islands Snipe is a species of conservation concern, with a population that is estimated to be fewer than 800 birds. The existing population of the bird is restricted to several predator-free islands in the Chatham Islands, with most of the individuals situated on Mangere, South East Island and Pitt Island.

Historically, the Chatham Islands Snipe was once widespread across the Chatham Island archipelago, but predation by introduced mammalian predators, such as rats, and habitat destruction through human activity has drastically reduced the populations. The introduction of mammalian predators has led to the species’ population bottleneck, making the species highly vulnerable to further threats.

Conservation measures, namely the eradication of rats and other predators from larger islands and the establishment of predator-free sanctuaries, has resulted in the recovery and growth of the Chatham Islands Snipe population. However, the species is still listed as endangered due to the ongoing habitat loss and vulnerability to the introduction of mammalian predators.


The Chatham Islands Snipe is a solitary, non-migratory bird species with a terrestrial locomotion, which moves in a zigzag pattern to effectively probe the soil for food. During the breeding season, males establish a breeding territory and engage in agonistic behavior to defend their territory against other males.

The species is vulnerable to habitat destruction through human activity and the introduction of mammalian predators, which has drastically reduced its population across its range. Conservation efforts have had some positive effect in protecting the species.

With continued conservation measures, the species has a chance of recovering, which would benefit the Chatham Island ecosystem and the wider world. The Chatham Islands Snipe is a unique bird species that has a fascinating adaptation to its environment.

It has a diverse diet, and non-migratory behavior is adapted to its island environment. The species displays behavior that is essential to its maintenance and survival, including self-maintenance such as preening and bathing, agonistic behavior in defending territories, and aerial displays during the breeding season.

Threats like habitat loss and the introduction of mammalian predators have drastically declined population numbers, but through conservation efforts, the species has regained some population numbers. The Chatham Islands Snipe’s recovery is significant for the ecological balance of the Chatham Islands and highlights the role of conservation measures in preserving threatened species.

The continued conservation efforts to protect this unique bird species are essential in promoting its population growth and conserving it for future generations.

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