African sacred ibis

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African sacred ibis
Threskiornis aethiopicus -Mida Creek mud flats, Kenya-8.jpg
Foraging in Mida Creek mud flats, Kenya
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Pelecaniformes
Family: Threskiornithidae
Subfamily: Threskiornithinae
Genus: Threskiornis
Species: T. aethiopicus
Binomial name
Threskiornis aethiopicus
(Latham, 1790)
Natural Range of T. aethiopicus
African sacred ibis.Ystad/Sweden 26 dec 2015.

The African sacred ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus) is a species of ibis. Its sister species is the Australian white ibis.


An adult individual is 68 cm (27 in) long with all-white body plumage apart from dark plumes on the rump. The bald head and neck, thick curved bill and legs are black. The white wings show a black rear border in flight. Sexes are similar, but juveniles have dirty white plumage, a smaller bill and some feathering on the neck.

Flying in South Africa

This bird is usually silent, but occasionally makes some croaking noises, unlike its vocal relative, the hadada ibis.

Habitat and distribution[edit]

A wading bird of the ibis family, Threskiornithidae, the sacred ibis breeds in Sub-Saharan Africa, southeastern Iraq, and formerly in Egypt, where it was venerated and often mummified as a symbol of the god Thoth. The African sacred ibis occurs in marshy wetlands and mud flats, both inland and on the coast. It will also visit cultivation and rubbish dumps.


immature, Uganda

The bird nests in tree colonies, often with other large wading birds such as herons. It builds a stick nest, often in a baobab tree and lays two or three eggs.


It feeds on various fish, frogs, small mammals, reptiles and smaller birds as well as insects. It may also probe into the soil with its long bill for invertebrates such as earthworms.

As an introduced species[edit]

The African sacred ibis has been introduced into France, Italy, Spain, Taiwan, and Bahrain.[2][3][1] Some studies indicate that the growing introduced populations in southern Europe have significant economic and ecological impacts,[4] while others suggest that they constitute no substantial threat to native European bird species.[5] The adaptable ibises supplement their diet by feeding at rubbish tips, which helps them to survive the winter in these temperate regions.


The African sacred ibis is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies.

In myth and legend[edit]

Copenhagen Museum
Wooden body with copper-bronze parts, Ptolemaic period, 330–304 BC

Venerated and often mummified by Ancient Egyptians as a symbol of the god Thoth, the ibis was, according to Herodotus and Pliny the Elder, also invoked against incursions of winged serpents. Herodotus wrote:

There is a region moreover in Arabia, situated nearly over against the city of Buto, to which place I came to inquire about the winged serpents: and when I came thither I saw bones of serpents and spines in quantity so great that it is impossible to make report of the number, and there were heaps of spines, some heaps large and others less large and others smaller still than these, and these heaps were many in number.

The region in which the spines are scattered upon the ground is of the nature of an entrance from a narrow mountain pass to a great plain, which plain adjoins the plain of Egypt; and the story goes that at the beginning of spring winged serpents from Arabia fly towards Egypt, and the birds called ibises meet them at the entrance of this country and do not suffer the serpents to go by but kill them. On account of this deed it is (say the Arabians) that the ibis has come to be greatly honored by the Egyptians, and the Egyptians also agree that it is for this reason that they honor these birds.

In more mythical stories, it was also said that the flies that brought pestilence died immediately upon propitiatory sacrifices of this bird.[6]

Research from 2015 using 14C radiocarbon dating suggests that the Egyptian Ibis mummies that were analyzed in the study were from time frame that falls between approximately 450 and 250 BC. This timing falls in Egyptian history between the Late Period to the Ptolemaic Period[7].


  1. ^ a b BirdLife International (2012). "Threskiornis aethiopicus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ Yésou, Pierre; Clergeau, Philippe (2005). "Sacred Ibis: a new invasive species in Europe" (PDF). Birding World. 18 (12): 517–526. Retrieved 9 January 2017. 
  3. ^ Charlier, Phillip (25 April 2016). "The Sacred Ibis Runs Rampant in Taiwan". The Wild East Magazine. Retrieved 9 January 2017. 
  4. ^ Kumschick, S.; Nentwig, W. (2010). "Some alien birds have as severe an impact as the most effectual alien mammals in Europe". Biological Conservation. 143 (11): 2757–2762. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2010.07.023. 
  5. ^ L. Marion: Is the Sacred ibis a real threat to biodiversity? Long-term study of its diet in non-native areas compared to native areas. In: Comptes rendus biologies. Volume 336, Number 4, April 2013, ISSN 1768-3238, S. 207–220, doi:10.1016/j.crvi.2013.05.001. PMID 23849724.
  6. ^ Pliny. "Chapter 41". Natural History. Book X. 
  7. ^ Wasef, S.; Wood, R.; Merghani, S. El; Ikram, S.; Curtis, C.; Holland, B.; Willerslev, E.; Millar, C.D.; Lambert, D.M. "Radiocarbon dating of Sacred Ibis mummies from ancient Egypt". Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. 4: 355–361. doi:10.1016/j.jasrep.2015.09.020. 
  • Barlow, Clive; Wacher, Tim; Disley, Tony (1997). A Field Guide to birds of The Gambia and Senegal. Robertsbridge: Pica Press. ISBN 1-873403-32-1. 

External links[edit]