Chatham Island snipe (Coenocorypha pusilla)

Chatham Island snipe walking on leaf litter
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Chatham Island snipe fact file

Chatham Island snipe description

GenusCoenocorypha (1)

The Chatham Island snipe is a small, rotund bird with beautifully camouflaged plumage. The body is mottled with black, brown and reddish-brown, turning creamy-white on the lower breast and belly (2) (3). The top of the head is striped with black, brown and reddish-brown (3), and the bill is long, although not as long as that of other species of snipe (4). Female Chatham Island snipes are paler than males, and juveniles have less distinct patterning than adults (2). The call of a male Chatham Island snipe has been recorded as a low ‘trerk, trerk, trerk’ and ‘queeyoo, queeyoo, queeyoo(3).

Length: 19 – 20 cm (2)
Wingspan: 28 – 30 cm (2)
61 – 110 g (2)

Chatham Island snipe biology

The Chatham Island snipe uses its relatively long bill to probe moist soils or leaf litter for earthworms, amphipods, beetles, and insect larvae and pupae. This prey, once found, is generally swallowed without the snipe having to withdraw its bill from the soil (2).

These apparently monogamous birds breed between September and March (2). Males attract females with a night-time display flight and courtship feeding and then, as a pair, they select a suitable site in which to construct a nest (2) (5). The nest may either be a shallow cup made of Carex or Holcus leaves, or a simple, unlined scrape in the ground (6). Generally two, although sometimes three, mottled pale pinkish-brown eggs are laid and incubated for over 19 days by both parents (2) (6). The chicks are fed by the parents for the first two to three weeks of life, but are able to fly after 21 days and become fully independent at around 41 days of age (2).


Chatham Island snipe range

Restricted to four small islands in the Chatham Islands, New Zealand: Rangatira (or South East Island), Mangere, Little Mangere and Star Keys (2).


Chatham Island snipe habitat

The Chatham Island snipe can be found from the shore to the islands’ summits, but most commonly occurs in areas with considerable bush cover and forest of Olearia traversi (the ake ake tree), especially among sedges (Carex species) (2) (3).


Chatham Island snipe status

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable


Chatham Island snipe threats

This threatened bird once inhabited most of the islands in the Chatham group, but following the introduction of predatory rats and cats to Chatham, Pitt and Mangere Islands, the snipe became confined to just Rangatira and Star Keys by 1970 (7). The Chatham Island snipe had also come close to extinction on Rangatira, with a large sheep population degrading the island’s habitat (8). Thankfully, all livestock were removed from the island in 1961 (2), leaving the snipe population to recover (8). The cat population on Mangere eventually died-out after extensive hunting (7), and the Chatham Island snipe could be re-introduced to the island. Shortly after, the snipe colonised the predator-free Little Mangere Island (7) (9).

Today, the population of Chatham Island snipes is believed to be stable but, as past experience shows, it is in danger of rapid extinction if the islands on which it occurs are colonised by rats, cats, pigs, or weka (flightless ground-dwelling birds), all of which are present on neighbouring islands (2).


Chatham Island snipe conservation

As mentioned above, past conservation efforts have seen the Chatham Island snipe successfully re-introduced to Mangere Island, following the eradication of feral cats (7) (9). More recently, in 2001, trials at keeping snipe in captivity were undertaken (9). The techniques learnt in this successful trial may be used in the future for a captive-breeding programme, and can be used to implement measures to secure the future of the more highly threatened Campbell Island snipe, an un-described Coenocorypha species restricted to just one tiny island (9).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

For further information on conservation in the Chatham Islands see:

For more information on this and other bird species please see:



This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:


A group of small shrimp-like crustaceans that includes sandhoppers, beach hoppers, and water lice.
Stage in an animal’s lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
Having only one mate during a breeding season, or throughout the breeding life of a pair.
Stage in an insect’s development when huge changes occur, which reorganise the larval form into the adult form. In butterflies the pupa is also called a chrysalis.
The establishment of a native species back into an area where it previously occurred.


  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2008)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1996) Handbook of the Birds of the World Volume 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. BirdLife International (April, 2008)
  4. Burnie, D. (2001) Animal. Dorling Kindersley, London.
  5. Miskelly, C.M. (1990) Aerial displaying and flying ability of Chatham Island snipe Coenocorypha pusilla and New Zealand snipe C. aucklandica. Emu, 90: 28 - 32.
  6. Miskelly, C.M. (1999) Breeding ecology of Snares Island snipe (Coenocorypha aucklandica buegeli) and Chatham Island snipe (C. pusilla). Notornis, 46: 207 - 221.
  7. Dowding, J.E. and Murphy, E.C. (2001) The impact of predation by introduced mammals on endemic shorebirds in New Zealand: a conservation perspective. Biological Conservation, 99(1): 47 - 64.
  8. Nilsson, R.J., Kennedy, E.S. and West, J.A. (1994) The birdlife of South East Island (Rangatira), Chatham Islands, New Zealand. Notornis, 41: 109 - 125.
  9. Miskelly, C. and Barlow, K. (2001) Chatham Island Snipe Research and Management Trials, Rangatira/South East Island, April-May 2001. Wellington Conservancy, Department of Conservation, Wellington, New Zealand.

Image credit

Chatham Island snipe walking on leaf litter  
Chatham Island snipe walking on leaf litter

© Robin Bush /

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