White Ibis

Eudocimus albus

(c) Charles Bush
  • THRESKIORNITHIDAE
  • Ibises, Spoonbills
  • Ciconiiformes
  • Corocoro blanco, Ibis blanco
  • Ibis blanc, Petit flaman
Introduction
This distinctive wading bird is commonly found in the coastal marshes and wetlands of tropical North and Central America. Often found in large flocks, the White Ibis is easily identified by its white plumage and long curved red bill.
Appearance Description

With long red legs, all white plumage, red face, and long decurved red bill, an adult White Ibis in breeding plumage is easily identified. Black wing tips are especially evident in flight. In flight, the outstretched wings measure three feet across, and have small yet obvious patches of black at the tips. Adults stand about two feet tall, and weigh about two pounds. Juvenile birds are dark overall. They become increasingly pale over the first year or so, molting into white adult plumage by early in their second year. The bill, face, and legs of young birds change similarly, from dark, to orange, to the red of adulthood.

Range Map
Courtesy Kenn Kaufman
Range Distribution
In North America, the White Ibis breeds coastally from Louisiana east along the Gulf Coast. They occur inland across Florida, and along the Atlantic coast as far north as the Carolinas. The non-breeding range extends further inland, north to Virginia, and west to eastern Texas. The White Ibis is known to wander, and has been recorded, albeit rarely, in states far out of range, sometimes in small flocks. The species is most common in Florida, where over 30,000 have been counted in a single breeding colony. The species also occurs throughout the Caribbean, on both coasts of Mexico and Central America, and as far south as Columbia and Venezuela.
 
A legend for the range map to the right can be found here.
Habitat
Shallow coastal marshes, wetlands, and mangrove swamps are the White Ibis's preferred habitat. Populations away from the coast make use of marshes, ponds, flooded fields and a variety of other wet habitats, particularly in southern Florida. The White Ibis feeds in fresh, brackish, or salty water.
Feeding

A highly social species, the White Ibis often feeds in large flocks. The birds wade slowly through shallow water, heads down, probing the bottom by sweeping their long bills back and forth across the bottom. They often capture food by sense of touch alone. The species also forages on land. Crabs, crayfish, and other crustaceans are the preferred prey, but the diet is diverse. The White Ibis also eats insects, fish, frogs and a wide variety of aquatic animals.

Reproduction

The White Ibis breeds in colonies, where nests can number in the tens of thousands. Pairs form in spring, and nesting begins as soon as suitable foraging habitat is available. The female chooses the site and builds the nest, usually in the branches of a tree or shrub. The male assists by bringing her nesting material, occasionally stolen from a neighbor. During incubation, the male aggressively defends his nest and mate from both predators and other ibises. Eggs hatch after about three weeks, and the chicks are weak and helpless for the first several days. The young are attended constantly for the first two weeks, then left on their own for short periods. Young White Ibis are susceptible to salt stress, so the availability of a freshwater food source is essential for young to develop normally. Upon leaving the nest, juvenile birds form flocks with other juveniles.

Migration

Short seasonal migrations occur in certain parts of the species' range. In general, there is a push toward coastal areas in winter. The species is nomadic, so large flocks may wander outside the breeding season, often in search of new food sources.

  • Unknown
  • 150,000
  • No current conservation concerns
Population Status Trends
White Ibis distribution is prone to rapid change in any given area. The species tends to be nomadic; large breeding colonies respond quickly to changes in habitat or food supply. Within Florida's Everglades, the historic heart of the birds' range, the population is far lower than historic levels. However, overall numbers are currently increasing throughout the range as the species expands northward along the Atlantic coast.
Conservation Issues
While currently protected, over-hunting of the species has historically been a concern. Today, the main threats to the White Ibis are human disturbance and habitat loss. Nesting adults are particularly sensitive to disturbance, and eggs and chicks left alone due to human intrusion are susceptible to predation. Since the species nests in large groups, nest disturbance, even by well-meaning researchers, can have devastating effects on a colony.
 
Habitat loss is currently the White Ibis's greatest threat. The preservation of the species' coastal marsh and wetland habitat is crucial. Nestlings require freshwater prey, so protecting freshwater habitats adjacent to nesting sites is also extremely important. The White Ibis's habit of frequently changing its colonial breeding sites is a particular conservation challenge. Protection of small pockets of habitat where colonies currently exist is only temporarily helpful. With the heavy loss of coastal wetlands in the southeastern United States, protection of all such remaining habitat area is crucial.
What You Can Do
Remain aware of local, regional, and federal land management decisions, particularly those that affect our wetlands.
 
Contact your legislators in support of wise land management initiatives, such as wetland restoration along the Gulf Coast, and The North American Waterfowl Management Plan.
 
For actions you can take, including Audubon activities, please visit our resources page.
More Information
Audubon of Florida's Everglades Conservation Network is dedicated to the restoration and protection of the Florida's Everglades, one of America's most unique ecosystems. The Everglades hosts one of the largest concentrations of endangered and threatened species in the U.S., and is the heart of the White Ibis's traditional range.
 
America's Wetland, a campaign to save coastal Louisiana, maintains timely information regarding coastal land loss at its website. The marshland of coastal Louisiana is crucial habitat for many waterbird species, including the White Ibis.
 
Visit our resources page for more information about this species.
Natural History References
Bent, A. C. 1926. Life Histories of North American Marsh Birds. U.S. Natl. Mus. Bull. 135.
 
Kaufman, Kenn. 1996. Lives of North American Birds. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York.
 
Kushlan, J. A. and K. L. Bildstein. 1992. White Ibis. In The Birds of North America, No. 9 (A. Poole, P. Stettenheim, and F. Gill, Eds.). Philadelphia: The Academy of Natural Sciences; Washington, DC: The American Ornithologists' Union.
Conservation Status References
Bent, A. C. 1926. Life Histories of North American Marsh Birds. U.S. Natl. Mus. Bull. 135.
 
Kaufman, Kenn. 1996. Lives of North American Birds. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York.
 
Kushlan, J. A. and K. L. Bildstein. 1992. White Ibis. In The Birds of North America, No. 9 (A. Poole, P. Stettenheim, and F. Gill, Eds.). Philadelphia: The Academy of Natural Sciences; Washington, DC: The American Ornithologists' Union.