Sacred Ibis

It is a stunning white bird with a bald black head and neck. Meanwhile, black wingtips and drooping edges accentuate its white wings. It occurs nearly in all open habitats, such as wetlands, dumps, and farmlands. Once restricted to sub-Saharan Africa, the species has established populations in Taiwan, and European countries, such as Italy, France, and Spain.

Read further to know more about the Sacred Ibis.

What is a Sacred Ibis?

Sacred Ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus) is a wading bird belonging to the Threskiornithidae family. They go a long way back with fossils records dating around 60 million years ago. This bird is famous for its role in the Ancient Egyptians’ religion, where it was believed that the ibis was the embodiment of ‘Thoth,’ their God of Writing and Knowledge. With that, many ibis have been discovered found mummified in Egyptian tombs.

Its seven levels of classification are as follows:

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Order: Pelecaniformes

Family: Threskiornithidae

Genus: Threskiornis

Species: T. aethiopicus

Sacred Ibis Physical Description

Sacred Ibises are characterized by their naked grayish to black head and neck and a thick, curved bill. An adult individual can grow about 27 inches or 68 centimeters long, weigh around 1.35 to 1.5 kilograms or 3.0 to 3.3 pounds, and boast a wingspan of 44 to 49 inches or 112 to 124 centimeters. Their wings are white with black tips, which displays a rear border when in flight. Eyes are brown with a dark red ring. Males and females look similar, while offsprings tend to have an off-white plumage, few feathering on their neck, and a smaller bill.

Where can they be spotted?

Sacred Ibises breed in sub-Saharan Africa and southeastern Iraq. A certain number of populations migrate during the rainy season, such as the South African group moving to Zambia, while populations on the northern part of the equator disperse in the opposing direction. Meanwhile, Iraqi native birds move to Southwestern Iran and often reaching Oman.

Elsewhere, the species has been introduced and later on established their colonies, such as in Taiwan, Italy, France, Spain, the Netherlands, UAE, and perhaps Bahrain.

While important in Ancient Egyptian culture, sacred ibises are now extinct in Egypt.

Interesting Facts You Should Know About the Sacred Ibis

Sacred Ibises are omnivorous birds that feed primarily on insects, such as locusts, grasshoppers, insect larvae, small reptiles, small amphibians, birds, crustaceans, frogs, snakes, and fish. They occasionally scavenge, eating carrion. These birds are also seen using their long bills to probe the soil, searching for invertebrates like earthworms.

Like its wading bird cousins, sacred ibises are conspicuous in flight as they always travel in a ‘V’ formation, which decreased the wind’s effects on trailing birds. Whenever the front ibis gets tried, it will fall back to the group’s back while another sacred ibis takes the lead.

These birds are pretty gregarious, living, traveling and breeding in flocks composed up to 20 individuals. However, they are also known to aggregate in larger groups consisting of up to 300 individuals.  Sacred ibises often nest in tree colonies but may also do it on the ground in bushes and thickets. Sometimes, they even nest with other wading birds such as herons.

Sacred ibises migrate north or south of the equator for over 700 kilometers during their breeding period, occurring in the rainy season. Breeding colonies can have up to 2000 mating pairs.

The female sacred ibis will lay a clutch consisting of 2-5 eggs, which the parents will jointly incubate for around 28-29 days. After hatching, broods are born with a pale white plumage, few featherings on their neck, and a smaller bill. Parents will take intervals to feed the chicks and protect their nest site until the broods can defend and forage themselves. Juveniles will reach sexual maturity at 4-5 years old.

While sacred ibises are evaluated as Least Concern (LC) under the IUCN Red List, the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies to the species. Poaching, habitat destruction, and insecticide have endangered and resulted in the decline of several ibis species.



Central Kalahari Game Reserve

Chobe National Park

Linyanti Swamp

Makgadikgadi Pan

Mashatu Game Reserve

Okavango Delta

Moremi Game Reserve




Addo Elephant National Park

Cape Peninsula National Park

Hluhluwe Game Reserves

Kalahari Gemsbok National Park

Knysna Lagoon

Kruger National Park

Madikwe Game Reserve

St Lucia Wetlands



Caprivi Region


Etosha National Park

Namib-Naukluft National Park

Skeleton Coast




Lechwe Plains

Lower Zambezi

South Luangwa

Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park





Lake Kariba

Mana Pools

Matobo Hills

Victoria Falls

Sacred Ibis
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