Sacred ibis

Sacred ibis — bright white bird with bare black head and neck, black paws and feet. White wings are framed with black ends. Found in almost any open habitat, from wild wetlands to farmlands and garbage dumps. Originally restricted to sub-Saharan Africa, but now lives in Europe in wild colonies in France, Italy and Spain.

Origin and description

 Photo: Sacred ibis

Photo: Sacred ibis

Sacred ibises are native and abundant in sub-Saharan Africa and southeastern Iraq. In Spain, Italy, France and the Canary Islands, populations of individuals appeared that escaped from captivity and began to breed successfully there.

Interesting fact: In ancient Egyptian society, the sacred ibis was worshiped as the god Thoth, and he was supposed to protect the country from epidemics and snakes. Birds were often mummified and then buried with pharaohs.

All movements of the sacred ibis are associated with the escape from zoos. In Italy, they have been bred in the upper Po Valley (Piedmont) since 1989, having escaped from a zoo near Turin. In 2000 there were 26 pairs and about 100 individuals. Breeding was observed in another site in the same area in 2003, possibly up to 25-30 pairs, and a few more pairs were found in a third colony in 2004.

Video: Sacred ibis

In Western France, after 20 birds were imported from Kenya, a breeding colony was soon established in the Branferet zoo in southern Brittany. In 1990, there were 150 pairs in the zoo. The juveniles were left free to fly and quickly moved outside the zoo, mostly visiting nearby wetlands as well as wandering hundreds of miles along the Atlantic coast.

Breeding in the wild was first recorded in 1993 both at Golfe du Morbihan, 25 km from the relocation site, and at Lac de Grands Lou, 70 km away. Breeding has not taken place at Branferet Zoo since 1997. Later, colonies originated in various places along the French Atlantic coast: in the marshes of Brière (up to 100 nests), in the Gulf of Morbihan and on a nearby sea island (up to 100 nests) with several more nests up to 350 km south of Branferet in the marshes of Braug and near Arcachon .

Interesting fact: The largest colony of sacred ibis was discovered in 2004 on an artificial island at the mouth of the Loire River; in 2005 it numbered at least 820 pairs.

The French Atlantic population was just over 1000 breeding pairs and about 3000 individuals in 2004-2005. In 2007 there were about 1400-1800 pairs with over 5000 individuals. The selection was tested in 2007 and has been carried out on a large scale since 2008. This year, 3,000 birds were killed, resulting in 2,500 left in February 2009.

Appearance and Features

Photo : What a sacred ibis looks like

Photo: What a sacred ibis looks like

The sacred ibis has a length of 65-89 cm, a wingspan of 112-124 cm, and weighs about 1500 g. From clean to dirty shades, white feathers cover most of the body of sacred ibis. Blue-black spatula feathers form a tuft that falls on a short square tail and closed wings. Flight feathers are white with dark blue-green tips.

Sacred ibises have long necks and bald, blunt grey-black heads. The eyes are brown with a dark red orbital ring, and the beak is long, downwardly curved and with slit-like nostrils. Red exposed skin is visible on the chest. Paws are black with a red tinge. There is no seasonal variation or sexual dimorphism in sacred ibises, except that males are slightly larger than females.

Juveniles have feathered heads and necks that are streaked with white with black streaks. Their spatula feathers are greenish-brown, and there is more black on their primaries. The fender liner has dark stripes. The tail is white with brown corners.

The sacred ibis survives well in northern Europe when the winters are not too severe. It shows a clear adaptability to a variety of habitats from sea coasts to agricultural and urban areas and to a variety of foods, both in natural and exotic areas.

Where does it live? sacred ibis?

Photo: Sacred ibis bird

Photo: Sacred ibis bird

Sacred ibis live in a wide variety of habitats, although they are usually found in close proximity to rivers, streams and coastlines. Their natural range ranges from subtropical to tropical, but they also occur in more temperate areas, where they are represented. Sacred ibis often nest on rocky sea islands and have adapted to life in towns and villages.

Fun Fact: Ibises — an ancient species with fossils dating back 60 million years.

The sacred ibis is commonly displayed in zoological parks around the world; in some cases, birds are allowed to fly freely, they can go outside the zoo and form a wild population.

The first wild populations were observed in the 1970s in eastern Spain and in the 1990s in western France; more recently, they have been observed in southern France, northern Italy, Taiwan, the Netherlands, and the eastern United States. In France, these populations quickly became numerous (more than 5,000 birds in western France) and spread over several thousand kilometers, giving rise to new colonies.

Although the impacts of wild ibis populations have not been analyzed in all introduced areas, studies in the west and south of France indicate the predatory impact of this bird (especially the destruction of terns, herons, their chicks and the capture of amphibians). Other impacts are observed, such as the destruction of vegetation at breeding sites, or the suspicion of, for example, the spread of diseases — ibis often visit landfills and slurry pits to catch insect larvae, and then may move to pastures or poultry farms.

Now you know where the African sacred ibis bird is found. Let's see what he eats.

What does the sacred ibis eat?

Photo: Sacred ibis in flight

Photo: Sacred ibis in flight

Sacred ibis feed during the day mostly in flocks, wading through shallow wetlands. From time to time they may feed on land near water. They can fly a distance of 10 km to a feeding site.

Mostly sacred ibis feed on insects, arachnids, annelids, crustaceans and molluscs. They also eat frogs, reptiles, fish, young birds, eggs, and carrion. In more cultivated areas, they have been known to eat human garbage. This is observed in France where they become an invasive pest species.

Sacred ibises are opportunistic in the matter of food choice. They prefer invertebrates (eg, insects, molluscs, crayfish) when foraging in grasslands and swamps, but will also take larger prey when available, including fish, amphibians, eggs, and young birds. Some individuals may specialize as predators in seabird colonies.

Thus, the food of the sacred ibis is:

  • birds;
  • mammals;
  • amphibians;
  • reptiles;
  • fish;
  • eggs;
  • carrion;
  • insects;
  • terrestrial arthropods;
  • mollusks;
  • terrestrial worms;
  • aquatic or marine worms;
  • aquatic crustaceans.

Character and lifestyle features

Photo: African sacred ibis

Photo: African sacred ibis

Sacred ibises seasonally form monogamous pairs that nest in large breeding colonies. During the breeding season, large groups of males choose a place to settle and form paired territories. In these territories, males stand with their wings down and stretched rectangles.

In the next few days, the females arrive at the breeding colony along with a large number of males. Newly arrived males go to established male settler territories and compete for territory. Fighting males can hit each other with their beaks and screech. Females choose a male for mating and form pairs.

Once a pair is formed, it moves to an adjacent nesting area chosen by the female. Fighting behavior can continue in the nesting area between adjacent individuals of either sex. Ibis will stand with outstretched wings and lowered head with an open beak to other individuals. Individuals that are very close together may take a similar position, but with the bill pointing upwards, almost touching during sounding.

During pair formation, the female approaches the male and, if she is not driven away, they collide with each other and bow with their necks extended forward and towards the ground. After that, they take a permanent posture and intertwine their necks and beaks. This may be accompanied by more bowing or more self-cultivation. The pair then establishes a nest territory where copulation takes place. During copulation, females crouch down so that males can mount them, the male may grab the female's beak and shake it from side to side. After copulation, the pair again assumes a standing position and actively clings to the nesting site.

Sacred ibis form large colonies during the nesting period. They also flock in search of food and lodging, with up to 300 individuals reported living in groups. They forage over large areas and may migrate seasonally to feeding and breeding grounds.

Social structure and reproduction

Photo: Sacred Ibis

Photo: Sacred ibis

Sacred ibis breed annually in large breeding colonies. In Africa, breeding occurs from March to August, in Iraq from April to May. Females lay 1 to 5 (on average 2) eggs, which incubate for about 28 days. The eggs are oval to slightly round, rough textured, dull white with a blue tint and sometimes dark red spots. The eggs are 43 to 63 mm in size. Fledging occurs 35-40 days after hatching, and juveniles become independent shortly after fledging.

Incubation lasts 21 to 29 days, with most females and males incubating for about 28 days, alternating at least once every 24 hours. After hatching, one of the parents is constantly present in the nest for the first 7-10 days. Chicks are fed many times a day by both parents. Young individuals leave the nests after 2-3 weeks and form groups near the colony. After leaving the nest, the parents feed them once a day. The conception period lasts from 35 to 40 days, and individuals leave the colony 44-48 days after hatching.

After the eggs hatch, the parents identify and feed only their offspring. When the parents return to feed their offspring, they call briefly. The offspring recognize the parent's voice and can run, jump, or fly to the parent for food. If other juveniles approach their parents, they will be expelled. As the offspring learn to fly, they may circle around the colony until the parent returns to feed, or even chase the parent before feeding.

Natural enemies of sacred ibises

Photo: What a sacred ibis looks like

Photo: What a sacred ibis looks like

There are several reports of predation on sacred ibis. As an adult, these birds are very large and deter most predators. Young sacred ibis are carefully guarded by their parents, but may be predated by large predators.

Predators of sacred ibis are not numerous, among them:

  • rats (Rattus norvegicus) feeding on juveniles or eggs that have been observed in a Mediterranean colony;
  • gulls Larus argentatus and Larus michahellis.

However, the spatial concentration of nests in ibis colonies greatly limits predation, which occurs mainly when most adults leave the colony. Predation on resort sites is also rare because a layer of manure on the soil limits the presence of Vulpes vulpes foxes and because the birds are not very accessible to terrestrial predators when they are perched.

Sacred ibises have no direct effect on humans, but where present, these birds can become a nuisance or prey to threatened or defending bird species.

In the south of France, sacred ibis were observed before the nests of the Egyptian heron. In addition, as their numbers increased, the ibis began to compete for nesting sites with the great egret and little egret, and forced many pairs of both species out of the colony.

Species population and status

Photo: Sacred ibis bird

Photo: Sacred Ibis

Sacred ibis are not considered endangered in their native range. They have become a conservation issue in Europe, where they have been reported to feed on threatened native species as well as encroach on native species habitats. This has become a problem for European conservationists trying to protect native endangered species. The sacred ibis is not listed as an invasive alien species in the Global Invasive Species Database (from the IUCN Invasive Species Specialist Group), but is listed by DAISIE.

The African sacred ibis is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterfowl (AEWA) applies. Habitat destruction, poaching and insecticide use — all this led to the extinction of some species of ibis. There are currently no efforts or plans to conserve the sacred ibis, however population trends are declining mainly due to habitat loss and egg collection by locals.

Sacred ibis are important wading birds in throughout their range in Africa, consuming a wide variety of small animals, controlling their populations. In Europe, their adaptive nature has made the sacred ibis an invasive species, sometimes feeding on rare birds. The sacred ibis roams the arable land, helping herons and others to rid the area of ​​insect pests. Due to their role in crop pest control, they are very valuable to farmers. However, the use of agricultural pesticides threatens the birds in several places.

The sacred ibis is a beautiful vagrant bird found in the wild along coasts and swamps throughout Africa, sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar. It is represented in zoological parks around the world; in some cases, birds are allowed to fly freely, they can go outside the zoo and form a wild population.

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