5 Extraordinary Members of the Ibis Family

Eudocimus ruber or Scarlet IbisPhoto: OpenCage

The Ibis family is composed of about 26 species of birds, including the spoonbills. Perhaps the most evocatively named is the “Sacred Ibis”, worshiped by the Ancient Egyptians.

Introducing the Ibis Family

These wading birds prefer warm climates with shallow bays, lagoons, lakes or marshes. They fly by flapping and then coasting, with their legs and necks outstretched.

Most ibises live in large colonies, making small nests out of sticks. An average clutch has three to five eggs.

5. The Sacred Ibis of Egypt
Sacred Ibis or Threskiornis aethiopicaPhoto: OpenCage

Threskiornis aethiopica is actually more accurately named for Ethiopia rather than Egypt. It now is native to southern Arabia and sub-Saharan Africa.

However, this ibis was indeed sacred to the ancient Egyptians. The Ibis was associated with the worship of Thoth, the god of wisdom. He was often shown as a man with the head of an ibis.

The Sacred Ibis grows to about 75 centimetres in length. The body is largely white, with some black plumes in the wings and lower back; the head and neck is also dark.

According to Bird Life International, the African Sacred Ibis’s evaluation is of “least concern” in terms of the threats it faces because of its large range and population. The population may be decreasing slowly, but with a diet that includes insects, amphibians, fish and small mammals, it has good reason to thrive.

4. South America’s Scarlet Ibis

Scarlet Ibis or Eudocimus ruberPhoto: OpenCage

Living in the warm northern regions of South America, the Scarlet Ibis, or Eudocimus ruber, is a bit smaller than the Sacred Ibis. It only reaches about 63 cm in length. The bright red plumage makes it highly visible, however, even with dark wingtips and a pale belly.

In the wild, the Scarlet Ibis population is under pressure from loss of wetland habitat and the destruction of mangroves. It may not be endangered, but its status of “least concern” should be watched as the population is slowly declining.

3. The Glossy Ibis, A Global Success

Glossy Ibis and Little EgretPhoto: Neville10

This family, Plegadis falcinellus, has dark but shiny feathers. Although it is considered a rather small ibis, it can reach about 70 cm in length.

The Glossy Ibis is found in Central America and the USA, Europe, Africa and scattered through Asia and Australia.

2. The Endangered Northern Bald Ibis

Northern Bald Ibis or Geronticus eremitaPhoto: OpenCage

With its population declining, and mainly living in Morocco, the Northern Bald Ibis is “precautionarily retained as critically endangered“.

These large birds reach 80 cm in length. They use cliffs and dry ground as well as wetlands, hunting a variety of prey, from insects through snails to fish, lizards and small rodents (among others). It will also eat berries, duckweed and some other vegetation.

With no single explanation for the loss of its population, a serious concern is human encroachment and disturbance of its breeding areas.

1. The Black Headed Ibis Faces Pressure

Black Headed Ibis or Threskiornis melanocephalusPhoto: OpenCage

An Asian wetlands bird, the Black Headed Ibis is considered “near threatened” due to a combination of agricultural encroachment with a subsequent loss of habitat, as well as egg gathering and hunting by people.

At this time, no conservation measures seem to be underway. It may share rice paddies with farmers, but it also lives in freshwater marshes, coastal lagoons, and almost anywhere wet near sea level. It mainly eats fish, frogs and insects.

Geronticus eremita or Northern Bald IbisPhoto: OpenCage


Encyclopædia Britannica, “Ibis“, 2011, referenced April 22, 2011.
Marianne Dixon, Encyclopedia Mythica, “Thoth“, referenced April 22, 2011.
World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, “Scarlet Ibis“, referenced April 22, 2011.
Katja Schulz (editor), Encyclopedia of Life, “Plegadis falcinellus“, referenced April 22, 2011.
Bird Life International, “Northern Bald Ibis (Geronticus eremita)“, referenced April 22, 2011.
Bird Life International, “Black-headed Ibis (Threskiornis melanocephalus)“, referenced April 22, 2011.
Bird Life International, “African Sacred Ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus)“, referenced April 22, 2011.
Bird Life International, “Scarlet Ibis (Eudocimus ruber)“, referenced April 23, 2011.