Ibis, a heronlike wading bird. Ibises inhabit warm regions around the world, some of them visiting colder latitudes in summer. They range in length from about 20 to 30 inches (50 to 75 cm). Some are white, with colored heads, legs, and tails; others have variously colored plumage. Their necks, legs, and down-curving bills are long, their tails short.

Ibises feed in mud and shallow water on small animals. They build nests of sticks on the ground or in trees or bushes. The female lays three to five greenish or bluish eggs, sometimes spotted with brown. Both parents tend the eggs and young.

The sacred ibis is a large white bird with black head, tail, and legs. It is found in Africa south of the Sahara. It was sacred to the ancient Egyptians, but is no longer found in Egypt. The glossy ibis is widely distributed, being found in Florida, the West Indies, Europe, southern Asia, Australia, and Africa. The white-faced ibis and the white ibis are found only in the Americas. The scarlet ibis, closely related to the white ibis, is native to South America, where it is hunted for its bright plumage and as food. In the early 1960's, the scarlet ibis was introduced into the United States.

The scarlet ibisThe scarlet ibis is a wading bird with long legs and a down-curving bill.
Which Bird Comes Knocking for Its Dinner?

What would you think about a bird that knocks at its prey’s door to get the prey to come out? Would you say that the bird is very polite or very sneaky?

The white ibis especially likes crayfish, a type of freshwater animal that looks like a lobster. During the summer, crayfish escape the heat by burrowing under moist soils along the shoreline. This makes it harder for the ibis to find the crayfish. But the ibis has figured out a solution. A hungry white ibis creeps up to a crayfish burrow. The burrow has a mound of mud around the entrance, made when the crayfish dug out its burrow.

The ibis picks up bits of dried mud from the mound and drops them, one at a time, down the hole. Then it quietly waits. Soon, the crayfish starts to dig itself out from the mud the ibis has dropped into its prey’s burrow. When the crayfish peeks out of the burrow opening, the ibis grabs it. The bird beats the crayfish on the ground to break off its legs and claws and then swallows the rest whole.

Are These Birds in Danger?

Altogether, about a dozen large wading birds are considered endangered. This means that they could become extinct. The rarest of these birds are the crested ibis, the giant ibis, and the dwarf olive ibis.

In the past, some of these birds, especially the egrets, were nearly wiped out because people killed them for their beautiful plumes. But laws were then passed to protect the birds, and some species have recovered. In some parts of the world, though, storks and their relatives are still hunted for their meat and feathers. The milky stork, for example, is a vulnerable species that is still being hunted in Asia.

Pesticides, or poisons used to kill insects, also harm these birds and their eggs. The birds also sometimes crash into electric power lines and are electrocuted. However, the biggest threat these birds face today is the loss of wetlands. When people drain wetlands to make land for farms or houses, these birds lose their homes and their food source.

Which Bird Can Be Found in Ancient Tombs?

The ancient Egyptians worshiped many gods and goddesses. One of their most beloved gods was named Thoth (thohth or toht). Thoth was the patron of writing, astronomy, mathematics, law, magic, and healing. He was often drawn having the body of a man and the head of an ibis.

Ancient Egyptians mummified, or preserved, dead ibises and gave them as offerings to the gods. To mummify an ibis, the body of the dead bird was wrapped in many layers of cloth bandages. Some ibis mummies were placed in ibis-shaped coffins. Archaeologists have found large numbers of mummified ibises in ancient Egyptian sites.

The species of ibis most commonly mummified by the ancient Egyptians was the sacred ibis. The sacred ibis has white feathers and a bare black skin on its head and neck. This bird was common in Egypt during ancient times. It still lives today in many areas of Africa.

Ibises belong to the family Threskiornithidae. The sacred ibis is Threskiornis aethiopicus; the glossy ibis, Plegadis falcinellus; the white-faced ibis, P. chihi; the white ibis, Eudocimus albus; the scarlet ibis, E. ruber.