Saturday, 20 April 2013

Sacred Ibis

order : Ciconiiformes      Genus & Species : Threskiornithidae     Family : Threskiornis aethiopicus

The sacred ibis is a familiar sight across much of Africa. Its adaptability and varied diet ensure that it is common throughout its range. Long legs, a naked neck and a saberlike bill enable the sacred ibis to hunt in water and on land for many kinds of prey. They found in most of sub-Saharan Africa and in the marshes of southeastern Iraq; two subspecies also occur, one on Aldabra Island and the other in western Madagascar.

Habitat : Widespread in sub-Saharan Africa, the sacred ibis breeds around wetlands but is otherwise found wherever there is suitable food, including cultivated fields, and even sewage plants or garbage dumps near human dwellings. The sacred ibis is migratory and often spends the dry season well over 100 miles from the lagoons and lake margins where it breeds.
Food & Hunting : The sacred ibis has a wide, varied diet consisting mainly of insects, but it also eats crabs, snails, worms, fish, frogs, lizards and small mammals. The sacred ibis takes eggs and nestlings from other bird species; it also eats carrion and is often the first to arrive after a grassland fire to feast on burnt animal carcasses. Feeding among slow-moving groups of anything between 3–300 birds, the sacred ibis picks food from the ground, probes soil and extracts insects from cracks in rocks or mud with its long, curved bill. As well as feeding on open land, the sacred ibis frequently forages in marshes and watering holes. Sometimes it scythes through the water like the closely related spoonbills, with its bill slightly open — ready to snap up anything it touches.
Behavior : A sociable bird, the sacred ibis usually travels and feeds in flocks of between 2–20 birds, although it may be found in larger concentrations feeding on abundant prey. Its breeding colonies can number up to 2,000 pairs, in trees often shared with other ibises, storks and herons. The sacred ibis feeds mainly in the early morning and at dusk. It rests in trees during the day, often with its beak agape to keep cool. When it is not foraging or resting, the bird is usually preening or bathing in shallow water, stretching out its neck while vigorously beating the water with its wings.
Breeding : Breeding usually starts during or just after the rainy season. Populations return to the same crowded colonies year after year, and pairs form quickly. Once a pair has chosen a site, usually in the branches of a thorny tree, the female builds the nest from sticks and grass that the male collects. She lays 2–5 eggs. Both parents incubate the eggs and also share the feeding duties once the eggs have hatched. The chicks thrust their heads into the adults’ open bills in order to stimulate adults to regurgitate food. The survival rate for sacred ibis chicks is low, and it is very rare that more than one chick leaves the nest alive. Those that survive continue to be fed by their parents until they are fully fledged.

Bill : The heavy, curved bill is the thickest of any ibis species. The‑nostrils are located at the base of the bill to prevent them from becoming blocked when the bird forages in mud.
Plumes : A bird below 2 years old has brownish tail plumes. Black, ornamental tail plumes develop with the onset of maturity, becoming especially fluffy among breeding adults.
Feet : The sacred ibis uses its feet for wading and perching. The long toes give the bird stability as it roosts and nests in trees.
Chick : Upon hatching, the chick has visible claws on its wings and a relatively straight bill. As it grows, feathers cover the wing claws, and the bill slow.

Weight : About 3 lbs.
Length : 26-35"
Wingspan : 3.4-4'
Breeding Season : Rainy season; also during dry season in marshes

The Ancient Egyptians considered the sacred ibis to be the earthly symbol of Thoth, the god of writing and wisdom. Accordingly, live ibises were kept in temples and later buried with pharaohs. The mummified bodies of 1.5 million sacred ibises were discovered in Ancient Egyptian catacombs.

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