KINGDOM: Animalia (Animals)
PHYLUM: Chordata (Possessing a notochord)
CLASS: Aves (Birds)
ORDER: Pelecaniformes (Medium and large water birds)
FAMILY: Threskiornithidae (Large wading birds)
SUB-FAMILY: Threskiornithinae (Ibises)
GENUS: Eudocimus (South American Ibises)
SPECIES: Eudocimus ruber (Scarlet Ibis)
The range of the scarlet ibis is very large, and colonies are found throughout vast areas of South America and the Caribbean islands. Native flocks exist in Brazil; Colombia; French Guiana; Guyana; Suriname; and Venezuela, as well as the islands of the Netherlands Antilles, and Trinidad and Tobago.
The scarlet ibis has a red plumage and glossy blue-black wing tips. Although the adults are brightly coloured, the young are dull, with a greyish-brown colour and white underbellies. Females and males are identical in coloration, but the male’s body size and bill length are much larger.
They inhabit wetlands and other areas of shoreline. They also range through mud flats, shorelines, mangroves, marshes and rainforest. They will gather near fresh and salt water estuaries.
Naturally, they feed on a diet of beetles, shrimps, insects, molluscs, small fish, crayfish and amphibians. In zoos their diet is regularly supplemented with beetroot, carrot, or other colourants to maintain the vibrant red colour.
The scarlet ibis is a sociable and gregarious bird, and very communally-minded regarding the search for food and the protection of young. They live in flocks of thirty or more. Members stay close, and mating pairs arrange their nests in close proximity to other pairs in the same tree.
Scarlet ibises are polygynous (males will have more than one female mate at a time). Mating pairs build nests of loose platforms of sticks. They roost in leaf canopies, mostly preferring the convenient shelter of young waterside mangrove trees. They build their nests in trees well above the water. If they can, they nest on islands, where their eggs and chicks are less likely to be in danger from predators. To attract a female, the male will perform a variety of mating rituals such as preening, shaking, bill popping, head rubbing, and high flights.
These birds will reach 16-20 years old in the wild. In captivity the average age reached is 20 years. One bird reached a record of 31 years.
The species faces the greatest risk of predation by large cats (family Felidae) and birds of prey (order Falconiformes). Overhunting, the harvesting of eggs and the selling of young as pets in open-markets are also affecting population sizes of the scarlet ibis. Other threats are habitat loss, nesting ground destruction and loss of foraging and feeding grounds as well as heavy pollution in these now limited areas. Disturbance of breeding and foraging areas because of recreational activities, such as boating also threaten the survival of the species.
Did you know?
- The scarlet ibis is the national bird of Trinidad and Tobago
- It gets its pink, orange, and reddish colour from the rich source of pigments in the algae and small crustaceans it eats