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Sacred Ibis

From Opus

Includes African Sacred Ibis and Malagasy Sacred Ibis

Adult, nominate subspecies.Photo © by Mike BarthAddis Ababa, Ethiopia, 30 June 2011
Adult, nominate subspecies.
Photo © by Mike Barth
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 30 June 2011
Threskiornis aethiopicus

Threskiornis aethiopica


[edit] Identification

Length 68 cm (26¾")

  • All-white body plumage
  • Dark plumes on the rump
  • Bald head and neck
  • Thick curved bill
  • Black legs
Immature, nominate subspecies.Photo © by David FlackKotu Creek, The Gambia, 7 March 2017
Immature, nominate subspecies.
Photo © by David Flack
Kotu Creek, The Gambia, 7 March 2017

Nominate race: brown eyes and a black rear border to the wings is visible in flight
Sexes are similar, but juveniles have dirty white plumage, a smaller bill and some feathering on the neck. Variation: T. a. bernieri shows pale eyes, shorter bill, less black in wing tips, and no obvious neck sack.

[edit] Distribution

Sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar and south-eastern Iraq. It has also been introduced into France, Italy, and Spain.

[edit] Taxonomy

Forms a superspecies [6] with Australian Ibis and Black-headed Ibis which have been split from this species.

[edit] Subspecies

This is a polytypic species. Three subspecies are recognized[1]:

  • T. a. aethiopicus:
  • Africa south of the Sahara and south-eastern Iraq; formerly Egypt - Larger with dark eyes and black wing tips.
  • T. a. bernieri:
  • Madagascar (sometimes called Madagascar Ibis and not to be confused with Lophotibis cristata. - Smaller with whitish eyes, black wing tips reduced or absent.
Adult, nominate subspeciesPhoto © by GiGiRochepann, South Africa, 3 September 2006
Adult, nominate subspecies
Photo © by GiGi
Rochepann, South Africa, 3 September 2006
  • T. a. abbotti:
  • Aldabra Island (Seychelles) - Similar to bernieri but eyes bluish.

Dickenson & Remsen (2014)[4] , Gill & Donsker (2018)[5] , Matheu et al. (2018)[7] and BirdLife International (2008)2 all split this taxon into two species, African Sacred Ibis Threskiornis aethiopicus and Malagasy Sacred Ibis Threskiornis bernieri including T. b. abbotti as recommended by Lowe & Richards (1991)[6].

[edit] Habitat

The nominate subspecies occurs in marshy wetlands and mud flats, both on the coast and inland, and it can be found also in agricultural areas and rubbish dumps.

T. a. bernieri differs in its exclusive preference for coastal habitats.

[edit] Behaviour

[edit] Diet

The diet includes invertebrates and their larvae, worms, fish, frogs, fish and other aquatic creatures, carrion, refuse as well as the eggs of colonial nesting birds and crocodiles.

[edit] Breeding

Monogamous and colonial. Nest usually in trees, but sometimes on ground. Often mixed with other waders such as herons. The 2 or 3 eggs are laid on a large platform stick nest.

[edit] Vocalisation

Mostly silent, but occasionally makes some croaking noises.

[edit] Movements

Nomadic or migratory. Movements of several hundred kilometres to breed during rains.

[edit] References

  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2017. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2017, with updates to August 2017. Downloaded from
  2. BirdLife International
  3. de Boer L. E. M., van Brink J. M. (1982) Cytotaxonomy of the Ciconiiformes (Aves), with karyotypes of eight species new to cytology. Cytogenet Genome Res 34:19-34.
  4. Dickinson, E.C. and Remsen, J.V. ed. 2014. The Howard and Moore Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World. 4th ed. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press. ISBN 978-0956861122
  5. Gill, F & D Donsker (Eds). 2018. IOC World Bird List (v8.2). doi : 10.14344/IOC.ML.8.2. Available at
  1. Lowe, K. W.; Richards, G. C. (1991). Morphological Variation in the Sacred Ibis Threskiornis aethiopicus Superspecies Complex PDF. Emu. 91 (1): 41–45. doi:10.1071/MU9910041. Retrieved 11 July 2018.
  2. Matheu, E., del Hoyo, J., Christie, D.A., Kirwan, G.M. & Garcia, E.F.J. (2018). African Sacred Ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 10 July 2018).

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