Sacred Ibis

ORDER: Pelecaniformes

FAMILY: Threskiornithidae

GENUS: Threskiornis

SPECIES: aethiopica

Large (25-29 inches), long-legged birds with thin, down-curved bills. The body is white with black plumes that form a loose net across the back, closed wings and tail. Legs and feet are black. When this ibis flies, bare patches of skin under the wings and at the sides of the breast show as scarlet. The head and neck are bare and covered with black, scaly skin once the bird is about 2 years old. Until then they are feathered white, mottled with black. Weight of average adult is 3 pounds. Only sounds are a low grunting or croaking on the breeding grounds.

Marshes, open moist areas, flooded farmlands, coastal lagoons in southeastern Iraq, Madagascar and sub-Saharan Africa.

Carnivorous. Snails, frogs and aquatic insects form the major part of the diet. Also known to prey on the eggs and nestlings of other birds. An opportunistic scavenger, even likes food from outdoor restaurants. Will peck for insects on dry land.

Ibises use communal roosting areas, usually with their own species, but sometimes with storks, herons, spoonbills or cormorants. The male gathers materials while the female builds the nest of sticks in trees, reeds or on cliffs. Clutch is 2-5 white eggs and incubation takes about 21 days. Young leave the nest at 14-21 days and assemble in groups, fledge at 35-40 days and leave the colony at 35-48 days.

Long curved bill for probing mud, water for food and partly webbed feet for foraging in wet habitats.

This species is now extinct in Egypt where it was venerated in ancient times. The ancient Egyptians believed that their god Thoth sometimes came to earth in the form of a Sacred Ibis. Thoth, a scribe of the gods, was the inventor of writing and measurer of time who symbolized wisdom and knowledge. It is depicted in many murals and mummified specimens are common in burial places; over 1.5 million birds were found in one group of tombs. Herodotus, the Greek historian and traveler writing in the fifth century BC., noted that the secular killing of this ibis, whether intentional or not, was punishable by death. The ancient Egyptians knew that this ibis kept bilharzia (a debilitating disease) in check , but not how. We now know that a snail, a main food of the ibis, is the host of the bilharzia parasite. Unfortunately, because of extensive swamp drainage and land reclamation over the years, the bird is now extinct in its ancient home and bilharzia is rampant.

The Sacred Ibis can be found in the African Savanna aviary near the elephants.

Not endangered. Listed as Least Concern by the IUCN.


  1. Forshaw, Joseph, ed. 1998. Encyclopedia of Birds. Academic Press, San Diego, CA, p. 74.
  2. Internet: and chaffeezoo. org.
  3. Perrins, Christopher. 1990. Illustrated Encyclopedia of Birds. Prentice-Hall Press, New York, p. 73.
  4. Richards, Dave. 1991. Birds of Kenya. Hamish Hamilton Ltd, London, p. 46.
  5. Sibley & Monroe. 1990. Distribution and Taxonomy of Birds of the World. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, p. 313.