Sunday, April 26, 2015

The American White Ibis

For as long as I can remember, one of my favorite birds has been the American White Ibis (Eudocimis albus).  I wouldn't be able to explain why I like them so much--I just know that I do.
The American White Ibis is mostly white with black primaries visible during flight (photo: the Wikipedia files)

As you have probably guessed, the American White Ibis is white--well, mostly.  It does have black primary feathers on its wings.  Its long legs and webbed toes (but not quite as webbed as a duck) are pale orange.  The same is true for its face.  During the breeding season (usually June and July), though this pale orange turns into a striking bright pink. 

American White Ibis’ have a very long bill like an egret, heron, or stork, but unlike those birds the White Ibis' bill is curved and very sensitive to movement.  This is important because of how they find their food.  They use their bill to grab small fish, amphibians, insects, and mostly small crustaceans.  They can get food directly out of shallow water or even in shallow sand or mud.  If there is vegetation in the water the Ibis will slowly walk through and stomp on the vegetation to get its prey to come out. 

The American White Ibis gather in huge colonies during the breeding season.  They do not mate for life, but every year, after a pair bonds, the male will bring sticks and vegetation to the female in a tree and then she will construct the nest.  They usually have 4 eggs, but sometimes less.  After the chicks hatch they usually leave the nest within just 2 weeks. 
The American White Ibis has been known to interbreed with the Scarlet Ibis in areas where their territories overlap (photo: Gay Schroer)

You can find these pristine looking birds in and around the Caribbean along the coasts of southern North America and South America and many islands along these coasts.  They are very abundant in the wild and are very often seen in Florida.  Their breeding range runs along the Gulf and Atlantic coast of North America, and along the coasts of Mexico and Central America.  Populations in northern Venezuela overlap with the range of the Scarlet Ibis (Eudocimus ruber), and in some instances they have been known to interbreed with these vibrantly colored birds.  There is some speculation in the professional community that these two birds should be classified as a single species.

There are currently no conservation efforts in place to help these birds because they are doing so well on their own in the wild.  They are classified as a species of "least concern" by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).  However, the plans to restore the Florida Everglades should benefit these wonderful creatures immensely.

Submitted by Mike Cerutti, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer

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