African sacred ibis

The fossil records suggest that this species has been on this planet for millions of years

Steve Garvie

A species steeped in history and mythology, particularly within the context of ancient Egypt, where it was venerated and often associated with Thoth, the deity of wisdom and writing. Despite its sacred status in ancient times, this reverence led to mass exploitation, where countless ibises were mummified and offered as votive sacrifices.

Beyond its historical significance, the African Sacred Ibis is a visually striking bird with a contrasting plumage of gleaming white body feathers and black wing and tail feathers. Its long, down-curved, black bill is not just a symbol of beauty but a highly effective tool for foraging in its preferred habitats of marshy wetlands, mudflats, and the shores of lakes and rivers. It uses this bill to probe into the substrate, searching for a diet that includes various insects, small fish, amphibians, crustaceans, and other small creatures.

This species of ibis nests in large colonies, often alongside other waterbirds. Their nests are typically constructed from a collection of sticks and placed in trees or bushes, sometimes even on buildings and other structures. Their breeding grounds are characterized by a cacophony of sound, with their distinctive croaking calls resonating through the air.

While the African Sacred Ibis is generally silent outside of breeding colonies, it is a highly social bird that communicates with its mates and offspring through a complex series of vocalizations and behaviors. The communal living of these birds during the breeding season creates a bustling environment where the sharing of space and resources is essential for the survival of their young.

Today, the African Sacred Ibis is no longer found in Egypt, with its population in its native habitats across Sub-Saharan Africa facing various threats, including habitat destruction and degradation. Their range has expanded beyond its historical confines due to both intentional and accidental introductions in various parts of the world, including Europe, where they have established feral populations.

Distribution

Country
Population est.
Status
Year
Comments
Angola
2018
Azerbaijan
2018
Vagrant
Bahrain
2018
Introduced
Benin
2018
Botswana
2018
Burkina Faso
2018
Burundi
2018
Cameroon
2018
Central Af. Rep.
2018
Chad
2018
Comoros
2018
Congo-Brazzaville
2018
Côte D’ivoire
2018
DR Congo (Kinshasa)
2018
Djibouti
2018
Egypt
0
Official estimate
EX
2018
Last seen 1864
Equatorial Guinea
2018
Eritrea
2018
Eswatini
2018
Ethiopia
2018
France
2018
Breeding
Gabon
2018
Gambia
2018
Ghana
2018
Guinea-Bissau
2018
Breeding
Guinea
2018
Iran
2018
Non-Breeding
Iraq
2018
Kazakhstan
2018
Vagrant
Kenya
2018
Kuwait
2018
Non-Breeding
Lesotho
2018
Malawi
2018
Mali
2018
Mauritania
2018
Mozambique
2018
Namibia
2018
Niger
2018
Nigeria
2018
Oman
2018
Non-Breeding
Rwanda
2018
Saudi Arabia
2018
Non-Breeding
Senegal
2018
Sierra Leone
2018
Somalia
2018
South Africa
2018
South Sudan
2018
Breeding
Spain
2018
Introduced
Sudan
2018
Tanzania
2018
Breeding
Togo
2018
Uganda
2018
Yemen
2018
Zambia
2018
Zimbabwe
2018

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd / Flock

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No

African sacred ibis on banknotes

Gambia 10 Dalasi (2001-2005)