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Black-headed ibis (Threskiornis melanocephalus)
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Pelecaniformes
Family: Threskiornithidae
Subfamily: Threskiornithinae
Poche, 1904

The ibis (/ˈbɪs/) (collective plural ibises;[1] classical plurals ibides[2][3] and ibes[3]) are a group of long-legged wading birds in the family Threskiornithidae that inhabit wetlands, forests and plains.[4] "Ibis" derives from the Latin and Ancient Greek word for this group of birds. It also occurs in the scientific name of the cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis) mistakenly identified in 1757 as being the sacred ibis.[5]


Ibises all have long, downcurved bills, and usually feed as a group, probing mud for food items, usually crustaceans. They are monogamous and highly territorial while nesting and feeding.[4] Most nest in trees, often with spoonbills or herons. All extant species are capable of flight, but two extinct genera were flightless, namely the kiwi-like Apteribis in the Hawaiian Islands, and the peculiar Xenicibis in Jamaica.[4] The word ibis comes from Latin ibis[6] from Greek ἶβις ibis from Egyptian hb, hīb.[7]

Species in taxonomic order[edit]

There are 29 extant species and 4 extinct species of ibis.

Image Genus Living species
Threskiornis G.R. Gray, 1842
Pseudibis Hodgson, 1844
Geronticus Wagler, 1832
Nipponia Reichenbach, 1850
Bostrychia G.R. Gray, 1847
Theristicus Wagler, 1832
Cercibis Wagler, 1832
Mesembrinibis J.L. Peters, 1930
Phimosus Wagler, 1832
Eudocimus Wagler, 1832
Plegadis Kaup, 1829
Lophotibis L. Reichenbach, 1853
Apteribis Olson & Wetmore, 1976
  • A. glenos Olson & Wetmore, 1976 Molokai flightless ibis
  • A. brevis Olson & James, 1991 Maui flightless ibis

An extinct species, the Jamaican ibis or clubbed-wing ibis (Xenicibis xympithecus) was uniquely characterized by its club-like wings.

In culture[edit]

The African sacred ibis was an object of religious veneration in ancient Egypt,[11] particularly associated with the deity Djehuty or otherwise commonly referred to in Greek as Thoth. He is responsible for writing, mathematics, measurement, and time as well as the moon and magic.[12] In artworks of the Late Period of Ancient Egypt, Thoth is popularly depicted as an ibis-headed man in the act of writing.[12] However, Mitogenomic diversity in sacred ibis mummies indicates that ancient Egyptians captured the birds from the wild rather than farming them.[13]

At the town of Hermopolis, ibises were reared specifically for sacrificial purposes, and in the Ibis Galleries at Saqqara, archaeologists found the mummies of one and a half million ibises.[14]

According to local legend in the Birecik area, the northern bald ibis was one of the first birds that Noah released from the Ark as a symbol of fertility,[15] and a lingering religious sentiment in Turkey helped the colonies there to survive long after the demise of the species in Europe.[16][17]

The mascot of the University of Miami is an American white ibis named Sebastian. The ibis was selected as the school mascot because of its legendary bravery during hurricanes. According to legend, the ibis is the last of wildlife to take shelter before a hurricane hits and the first to reappear once the storm has passed.[18]

Harvard University's humor magazine, Harvard Lampoon, uses the ibis as its symbol. A copper statue of an ibis is prominently displayed on the roof of the Harvard Lampoon Building at 44 Bow Street.

The short story "The Scarlet Ibis" by James Hurst uses the red bird as foreshadowing for a character's death and as the primary symbol.

The African sacred ibis is the unit symbol of the Israeli Special Forces unit known as Unit 212 or Maglan (Hebrew מגלן).

According to Josephus, Moses used the ibis to help him defeat the Ethiopians.[19]

The Australian white ibis has become a focus of art, pop culture, and memes since rapidly adapting to city life in recent decades, and has earned the popular nicknames "bin chicken" and "tip turkey".[20] In December 2017, the ibis placed second in Guardian Australia's inaugural Bird of the Year poll, after leading for much of the voting period.[21][22]

In April 2022, Queensland sports minister Stirling Hinchliffe suggested the ibis as a potential mascot for the 2032 Olympic Games, which are scheduled to be held in Brisbane.[23] Hinchcliffe's suggestion prompted much discussion in the media.[24][25][26]



  1. ^ There is still disagreement on how the taxonomic rules should apply to the Australian white ibis – both molluca and mollucus are currently used for the species.[8][9][10]


  1. ^ "ibis". Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved 6 October 2009.
  2. ^ Fennell, C. A. M., ed. (1892). The Stanford dictionary of Anglicised words and phrases. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 453. OCLC 1354115. Retrieved 6 October 2009.
  3. ^ a b Pierce, Robert Morris (1910). Dictionary of Hard Words. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company. p. 270. OCLC 4177508. Retrieved 6 October 2009.
  4. ^ a b c Longrich, N. R.; Olson, S. L. (5 January 2011). "The bizarre wing of the Jamaican flightless ibis Xenicibis xympithecus: a unique vertebrate adaptation". Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 278 (1716): 2333–2337. doi:10.1098/rspb.2010.2117. PMC 3119002. PMID 21208965.
  5. ^ Jobling, James A (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 201. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  6. ^ "ibis". Chambers Dictionary.
  7. ^ Beekes, R. S. P. (2009) Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Brill, p. 575. ISBN 9004174184.
  8. ^ David, Normand; Gosselin, Michel (2011). "Gender agreement of avian species-group names under Article 31.2. 2 of the ICZN Code" (PDF). Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club. 131 (2): 102–115. Retrieved 10 August 2017.
  9. ^ Schodde, Richard; Bock, Walter (2016). "Conflict resolution of grammar and gender for avian species-group names under Article 31.2. 2 of the ICZN Code: is gender agreement worth it?". Zootaxa. 4127 (1): 161–170. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.4127.1.9. PMID 27395618.
  10. ^ Dickinson, Edward C.; David, Normand; Alonso-Zarazaga, Miguel A. (2017). "Some comments on Schodde & Bock (2016) on gender agreement" (PDF). Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club. 137 (2): 142–144. doi:10.25226/bboc.v137i2.2017.a2. S2CID 125994321. Retrieved 10 August 2017.
  11. ^ Ceram, C. W. (1967). Gods, Graves, and Scholars: The Story of Archaeology. Translated by Garside, E. B.; Wilkins, Sophie (2nd ed.). New York: Alfred A. Knopf. p. 207.
  12. ^ a b Birmingham Museum of Art (2010). Birmingham Museum of Art : guide to the collection. Birmingham Museum of Art. p. 65. ISBN 978-1-904832-77-5.
  13. ^ Wasef, Sally; Subramanian, Sankar; O’Rorke, Richard; Huynen, Leon; El-Marghani, Samia; Curtis, Caitlin; Popinga, Alex; Holland, Barbara; Ikram, Salima; Millar, Craig; Willerslev, Eske; Lambert, David (2019). "Mitogenomic diversity in Sacred Ibis Mummies sheds light on early Egyptian practices". PLOS ONE. 14 (11): e0223964. Bibcode:2019PLoSO..1423964W. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0223964. PMC 6853290. PMID 31721774.
  14. ^ Fleming, Furgus; Alan Lothian (1997) The Way to Eternity: Egyptian Myth. Amsterdam: Time-Life Books. pp. 66–67
  15. ^ Shuker, Karl (2003). The Beasts That Hide from Man: Seeking the World's Last Undiscovered Animals. Cosimo. pp. 166–168. ISBN 1-931044-64-3. "Dreams of a feathered Geronticus"
  16. ^ Beintema, Nienke. "Saving a charismatic bird" (PDF). AEWA Secretariat. Archived from the original on 1 March 2012. Retrieved 11 December 2008.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  17. ^ "Ancient Egyptians gathered birds from the wild for sacrifice and mummification: DNA study rejects the idea that Egyptians domesticated sacred ibis for ritual use". ScienceDaily. Retrieved 24 January 2020.
  18. ^ Sebastian the Ibis. Hurricane sports
  19. ^ Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews. 2.10.
  20. ^ Denby, Matthew (31 October 2020). "Secrets of the Ibis: The surprising real reason 'bin chickens' took Sydney by storm". Sydney Sentinel. Sydney. Retrieved 13 November 2020.
  21. ^ Langford, Sam (21 November 2017). "Bin Chickens Are Leading In Australia's Bird Of The Year Vote, And It's Time To Have Your Say". Junkee. Retrieved 17 January 2023.
  22. ^ Wahlquist, Calla (10 December 2017). "Magpie edges out white ibis and kookaburra as Australian bird of the year". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 January 2023.
  23. ^ McKay, Jack (4 April 2022). "Stirling Hinchliffe suggests ibis should be a contender for 2032 Games mascot". The Courier-Mail. Retrieved 24 July 2022.
  24. ^ Goodall, Hamish (4 April 2022). "Could the ibis - Australia's own 'bin chicken' - become the mascot for Brisbane 2032 Olympics? Queensland's sports minister believes so". Sunrise. Retrieved 24 July 2022.
  25. ^ Fordham, Ben (4 April 2022). "Bird expert backs ibis as the official mascot for Brisbane Olympics". 2GB. Retrieved 24 July 2022.
  26. ^ Horton, Shelly (4 April 2022). "'Come on - we can do better than the bin chicken for our Olympics mascot'". 9Honey. Retrieved 24 July 2022.

External links[edit]

The dictionary definition of ibis at Wiktionary