Over the past couple of months, I’ve presented a relatively complete overview of the heron family. It’s finally time to move on! This week we will take a look at the Ibis family, a very recognizable and culturally important bird, known throughout the world for its large curved bill.
Ibis are a group of long legged wading birds, and in the United States we have a few native species, as well as some wanderers from South America. We’ll cover them all here, starting with our cover bird, shown here, the White Ibis.
White ibis are common in Florida and much of the southeastern united states, ranging from the seashore to the interior wetlands. They can be found in the deepest wilderness and swamps, seeking crustaceans and fish, and can be found grazing in Mr. Smith’s lawn next door, looking for insects and other goodies.
Adult white ibis are nearly all white, with black just on their wingtips. The black tips may be difficult to notice when they are wading or grazing, but are unmistakable in flight. The white ibis has an orange to pink colored bill, long and curved, and legs of a similar color to the bill. The curved bill and black wingtips make for an easy identification, allowing you to distinguish the white ibis from the white egret varieties we’ve reviewed here in past articles.
The juvenile white ibis starts out looking similar to the adult, but is mostly brown. As they mature, the brown fades to white over the first year or so of their life.
According to Wikipedia, ‘The mascot of the University of Miami is an American White Ibis. The ibis was selected as the school mascot because of its legendary bravery during hurricanes. The ibis is the last sign of wildlife to take shelter before a hurricane hits and the first to reappear once the storm has passed. Miami’s sports teams are nicknamed "The Hurricanes"’.
Ibis were treated very specially in ancient Egypt, where they were associated with the god Thoth (the local ibis in that region is actually called the “Sacred Ibis”) and ibis were bred, sacrificed and even mummified in vast numbers in religious ceremonies.
White ibis are social creatures, and are often found in groups, even mixing regularly with other wading birds.
Cousin to the white ibis is the Glossy Ibis. Found in the same range as the white ibis, but decidedly less common, the glossy shares the body profile of the white ibis, but with a completely different color palette. The glossy ibis has a more bronze colored body, brownish flecked head and neck, and a light blue, almost white line around the face. The bill and legs are much darker than the white ibis, so it is easy to tell a glossy ibis from a juvenile white ibis – once you know!
Similar to the glossy ibis is the white-faced ibis. Found rarely throughout the midwest, the white faced looks very much like the glossy, but with pink legs and pink around the base of the bill. inside the white face line.
Finally, we have the scarlet ibis. Once again sharing the same overall shape as the white ibis, the scarlet has a neon color that is more like a flamingo than an ibis. A wanderer from South America, most of the birds in the wild are actually escapees from zoos and wildlife preserves. In the wild, some of these have started to interbreed with the white ibis, resulting in a range of colors from white to pink to red.
I photographed this colorful character at Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, FL:
There you have a brief overview of the ibis family… I hope you enjoyed the imagery. Now, get out there, find some local ibis flocks, and get better acquainted with this cultural icon!