The African Sacred Ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus) is a species of ibis found near shores and marshes throughout Africa, south of the Sahara and in Madagascar.
The African Sacred Ibis is a wading bird that belongs to the family: Threskiornithidae.
The African Sacred Ibis has been introduced into France, Italy, Spain, Taiwan, and Southern Florida in the United States.
Use the information below to find out more about the Sacred Ibis’s characteristics, habitat, diet, behaviour and reproduction.
Sacred Ibis Characteristics
The Sacred Ibis is a distinctive large wading bird that measures 75 centimetres (30 inches) in length and weighs 1.35 kilograms (3 pounds). It has a wingspan of 112 – 124 centimetres (44 – 49 inches).
The plumage of the sacred ibis is mainly white in colour with black plumes on its lower back. Its small head and slender, curved neck are also black and practically bald. The sacred ibis has small black eyes and a long, slender, downward curved bill which is used to probe into sand and mud in shallow water or in grass and soil when foraging.
The legs of the sacred ibis are long and black and its feet are partially webbed like most wading birds. When in flight, the wing tips of the primary flight feathers are black which display a black border to the rear of the white wings.
Sacred Ibis Habitat
The sacred ibis thrives in large colonies near waterways throughout Africa. It inhabits wetlands such as marshes, swamps, riverbanks, flood plains and mud flats both coastal and inland. It is also known to visit pastures, ploughed land and rubbish dumps.
The sacred ibis is such an adaptable feeder that it supplements its diet by feeding at rubbish dumps, which helps it to survive in temperate regions during winter months.
Sacred Ibis Diet
The Sacred Ibis is an omnivorous scavenger who feeds up on insects including grasshoppers and locusts, insect larvae, amphibians and other small aquatic animals such as crustaceans, frogs, fish and small reptiles. They have also been known to eat eggs, carrion, snakes, other small birds and even refuse. The sacred ibis will also use its long beak to probe into the soil for invertebrates such as earthworms.
Sacred Ibis Behaviour
The sacred ibis is a gregarious bird living, breeding and traveling in large flocks. It is generally found in groups of 2 – 20 individuals although they have been known to occasionally flock in larger groups of up to 300 birds.
When in flight, like most wading birds, ibises fly in a ‘V’ formation which reduces wind resistance for trailing birds. When the front ibis becomes tired, it falls to the back of the formation and another ibis takes its place at the front.
The sacred ibis is generally a silent bird, however, it may sometimes produce grunting or croaking noises while in flight or at breeding grounds. Other Ibis species, on the other hand, are more vocal such as its close relative, the Hadeda Ibis.
The sacred ibis nests in tree colonies and also on the ground in papyrus thickets or in bushes. They often nest with other wading birds such as Herons. Their nests are generally untidy platforms of sticks and usually built in baobab trees.
The sacred ibis migrates over 700 kilometres north or south of the equator to breed during the rainy season. Breeding colonies contain between 50 – 2000 mating pairs nesting in bushes or on islands.
Sacred Ibis Reproduction
The sacred ibis breeds in sub-saharan Africa. The female lays around 2 – 5 eggs which are incubated for 28 – 29 days by both parents. Eggs are usually laid during the rainy season or in flooded areas during the dry season.
Young ibises are born with a dull white plumage, some feathering on the neck and a small bill. Both parents will take turns to feed the chicks and to guard the nest site until the chicks are large enough to defend and feed themselves. Ibis chicks fledge around 39 – 45 days and become mature at 4 – 5 years old.
The average life span of the sacred ibis is up to 20 years.
Sacred Ibis Conservation Status
The African Sacred Ibis is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies. Habitat destruction, poaching and insecticide use have all caused the decline of several species of Ibis.
The saced ibis moves around croplands helping egrets and others to rid the area of insect pests. Because of their role in helping to control crop pests, they are very valuable to farmers. However, agricultural pesticide usage has endangered the birds in several locations.
Did you know this about the Sacred Ibis?
The Sacred Ibis was once common in Egypt until 1850, where the ancient Egyptians believed it was the embodiement of ‘Thoth’ the God of Wisdom and master of time. Many ibis have been found mummified in tombs of pharaohs. The sacred ibis was also of practical use to the villagers, making pools safe to bathe in by feeding on the water snails that carried the bilharzias liver parasite.
Ibises are an ancient species with fossil records going back 60 million years.