Sacred Ibis

Sacred Ibis

Scientific Classification

Common Name
sacred ibis
Genus Species
Threskiornis (religious bird) aethiopicus (belonging to Ethiopia)

Fast Facts

The sacred ibis is mostly white with a black head and neck and some black plumes in the tail. It has a long, slender, down-curved, black bill. The legs are long with partially webbed feet.
Approximately 75 cm (30 in.); wingspan 30 cm (1 ft)
Approximately 1.35 kg (3 lbs.)
Their diet consists largely of insects including grasshoppers, locusts, crickets, and aquatic beetles, although it will also take crustaceans, worms, mollusks, fish, frogs, lizards, small mammals, the eggs of great white pelicans (Pelecanus onocrotalus) and crocodiles, nestling Cape Cormorants (Phalacrocorax capensis), carrion, offal, and seeds.
28 to 29 days
Clutch Size
3 to 5 eggs
Fledging Duration
39 to 45 days
Sexual Maturity
Approximately 4 to 5 years
Life Span
Up to 20 years
The Sacred Ibis has an extremely large range and can be found throughout most of Sub-Saharan Africa and Madagasgar. They have also been documented in Iran, Iraq, and Yemen. They appear to be regionally extinct in Egypt.
The species mainly inhabits the margins of inland freshwater wetlands, saltpans, farm dams, rivers in open forest, grasslands, and cultivated fields, as well as coastal lagoons, intertidal areas, offshore islands, and mangroves.
The total population size is very large with at least 10,000 mature individuals. Their populations appears to be stable and is not severely fragmented.
IUCN: Least concern
CITES: Appendix III
USFWS: Not listed

Fun Facts

The Sacred Ibis lives in large colonies near waterways throughout Africa.

These birds have slender, curved bills that they use to probe into shallow water, mud or grass when foraging.

This species is a gregarious bird, living, traveling, and breeding in flocks. In flight, they form diagonal lines or v-formations. This formation decreases wind resistance for trailing birds. When the leader of the pack tires, it falls to the back of the formation and another ibis takes its place at the front.

The Sacred Ibis is a quiet bird, only grunting or a croaking on breeding grounds.

 In ancient Egyptian society, the Sacred Ibis was worshiped as the god Thoth and was supposed to preserve the country from plagues and serpents. The birds were often mummified and then buried with pharaohs.

Both the male and female take turns in guarding the nest site until the chicks are large enough to defend themselves. In addition, both parents help feed the chicks.

The Sacred Ibis is an ancient species with fossil records going back 60 million years.

Ecology and Conservation

Because of their role in helping to control crop pests, they are very valuable to farmers. However, agricultural pesticides usage has endangered the birds in several locations.

The Sacred Ibis, so important in ancient Egyptian culture, is now extinct in Egypt. Habitat destruction, poaching, and insecticide use such as DDT have all caused the decline of several ibis species

The eggs and young of this species are collected by local people in Madagascar.


Gotch, A.F. Birds - Their Latin Names Explained. Poole, Dorst: Blandford Press, 1981.

Perrins, C. Birds: Their Life, their Ways, their World. New York: The Reader's Digest Association, Inc. 1979.

Chaffee Zoological Gardens of Fresno.

BirdLife International. 2018. Threskiornis aethiopicus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018: e.T22697510A132068562. Downloaded on 26 November 2018.