KINGDOM: Animalia (Animals)
PHYLUM: Chordata (Possessing a notochord)
CLASS: Aves (Birds)
ORDER: Ciconiiformes (Stork family)
FAMILY: Threskiornithidae (Large Wading Birds)
SUB-FAMILY: Threskiornithinae (Ibises)
GENUS: Geronticus (Bald Ibises)
SPECIES: Geronticus eremita (Northern Bald Ibis)
Historically the Northern Bald Ibis was found throughout central Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Recently, it was thought to be confined to Morocco at the Souss-Massa National Park and at nearby Tamri, until an additional small colony was rediscovered in central Syria in 2002. A semi-wild population also exists in Birecik, southeast Turkey, close to the Syrian border.
The plumage is mostly glossy black with a bronze-green and violet iridescence. It has a dull red head, whitish face, with white markings on the crown, and a long, curved red bill. Males and females look alike, except males tend to be larger than females and have longer bills. The chicks have a pale brown down. The fledged juveniles look like adults, except the head is dark, the feet are light grey and the bill is pale-coloured. The head does not have feathers and the neck turns red as they mature.
The species is found in barren, semi-desert or rocky habitats, often close to running water.
They have a broad diet, feeding mainly on insects, arachnids, scorpions, earthworms, snails and vertebrates such as fish, amphibians, lizards and snakes, small rodents and small birds, whether alive or dead. It will also feed on vegetation including berries, shoots, duckweed, and rhizomes of aquatic plants.
They are social in nature and forage in groups, ranging from just a few individuals to over 100 during the winter.
Northern bald ibisses are monogamous (having one partner). Once they find their mate, they form life-long pair bonds. They breed in loosely spaced colonies on the coast or near rivers. The male chooses a nest site, prepares it and then advertises himself to available females by waving his crest and emitting low rumbling calls. In bonded pairs, their bond is reinforced through bowing displays and mutual preening. Nests are shallow loosely-constructed, cup-shaped platforms of sticks and grasses.
They are typically situated on cliffs or amongst boulders on steep slopes. The nest is usually re-used year after year. The average nest consists of 2 – 4 oval eggs. The eggs are incubated for about 24 – 25 days. Both parents care for the chicks. The young fledge when they are about 40 – 50 days old. They usually take their first flight when they are about 2 months old.
The average Northern Bald Ibis lifespan in captivity is 20–25 years. The oldest recorded male lived to be 37 years old and the oldest recorded female 30 years. In the wild, they are estimated to live 10 – 15 years.
Illegal building and disturbance close to the breeding cliffs in Morocco and changes in farming on the feeding grounds are the threats that may have the most severe impact on the population. Overgrazing and collecting of firewood have reduced habitat quality in feeding areas, with food availability declining during the pre-dispersal period when the species’ nutritional requirements are high. Hunting is the main threat to the tiny Syrian population.
Did you know?
- Initially their eggs are blue-white with brown spots, but they turn brownish during the incubation process