White Ibis

Eudocimus albus
White Ibis by Kirk Rogers

The white ibis is a striking, white wading bird with a long, distinctively curved bill. It usually nests, feeds, and flies in large, cohesive flocks, and in many ways, epitomizes the freshwater and coastal wetlands of the southeastern United States. The white ibis is historically one of the most abundant wading birds in North America.

The white ibis is a bird of freshwater and estuarine wetlands; typically cypress swamps, bottomland hardwood and mangrove swamps, as well as freshwater marshes and salt marshes. They typically nest on barrier, marsh, and spoil islands on the coast, and on islands in lakes and ponds inland.

Most nesting birds forage in freshwater wetlands, even when breeding on coastal islands, owing to nestlings' need to maintain salt balance. Inland feeding habitat is mainly shallow marshes and cypress swamps, as well as lawns, pastures, and shallow ponds. Coastal feeding habitat is salt marsh in the northern range and saltwater lagoons and mangrove swamps in the south.

Nomadic movements and flexible reproductive schedules allow ibises to exploit the changing availability of shallow water feeding sites and concentration of its main prey, aquatic crustaceans, insects, and small fishes. Because of salt stress, nestlings do not develop normally on brackish water crustaceans, so nearby freshwater feeding sites are essential for successful breeding at coastal colonies.

A long, decurved bill, long legs and neck facilitate foraging while wading in shallow water and probing for prey items beneath the surface. Ibis usually probe while walking slowly, stopping periodically to concentrate probing under a plant or down a crayfish or crab burrow.

White ibis are colonial wading birds that flock when roosting, nesting and foraging. The fly in cohesive flocks, typically in a variable "V" formation or in long skeins. An entire flock may perform intricate maneuvers, especially during pre-breeding flights in early spring. Individual birds engage in spectacular aerobatics, including free-fall into roost.

Ibis spend much of the day preening, usually at day roosts. Feeding bouts are often interrupted to preen. They bathe in shallow water, crouching down and submerging, and then shaking their wings as in flapping flight. Group bathing is common and is usually followed by prolonged preening.

Federally designated a Bird of Conservation Concern in Bird Conservation Areas 31 (peninsular Florida) and 37 (Gulf Coastal Prairie-U.S. portion only), but not area 27 (Southeastern Coastal Plain). On the state level, white ibises have been listed as a Special of Special Concern by Florida, a Species of Moderate Concern by Alabama, but are not listed in any other state in their range. These designations are primarily due to the bird's population trends and restricted breeding and non-breeding ranges.

Facts About White Ibis

Medium-size wading bird with dark wingtips and a long, pink, curved bill.
Freshwater and estuarine wetlands; typically cypress swamps, bottomland hardwood and mangrove swamps, as well as freshwater marshes and salt marshes.
16 plus years