The Glorious Glossy Ibis

The Glossy Ibis is one of our favorite birds to spot when paddling Ayers Creek.

Glossy Ibis, Plegadis falcinellus are medium sized wading and probing birds found commonly in flooded agricultural fields, mudflats, mangroves and shallow open wetlands such as our Salt Marsh at Ayers Creek. Thy are most easily recognizable by their neck, long bill and long feet outstretched during their flight pattern.  The scientific name Pelgadis falcinellus comes from the Ancient Greek  word plegados and Latin word falcis meaning “sickle” referring to their distinctive shape of their bill. These birds are relatively the size between a crow and a goose weighing 1-2lbs and having a wingspan of 30-40inches. Glossy ibises are uniformly dark in color appearing black at a quick glance, but with close interpretation of them can be seen colors of metallic emerald green, bronze and deep violet and maroon.  Nonbreeding pairs as well as juveniles are duller and lack luster.

Glossy Ibises are somewhat wandering in the sense that they can often be widely dispersed after their nesting period is over. Dispersing to the southeastern US and much of North America. They can also be found in warm tropical and temperate regions of Europe, Asia and Africa. They nest in colonies with other birds similar to their stature and demeanor such as egrets, herons, spoonbills, and other ibises. Nesting in larger numbers offers more safety and security from nearby predators, however it also increases the hunting skills needed to forage through the water in search of food.

Glossy Ibis forage both by sight and touch using their sickle-shaped down curved bill to prod and glean the water invertebrates, earthworms, small fish, crickets, shrimp, crayfish, mollusks, frogs, snakes, lizards, seeds and various insects through any exposed mud where soils are moist and easy to rummage through. They have touch sensors on their bill which allows them to rapidly shut their bill when it encounters prey. Pond edges, sewage treatment areas, shallow rivers, plowed fields and areas with dense pockets of vegetation such as reeds, papyrus, rushes, and phragmites (such as Ayers Creek) are excellent feeding and nesting grounds.

In courtship, Ibises will bow to each other, touch their bills together rattling them quickly when cooing as well as preen each other as part of their courting and pre-mating rituals. Glossy Ibises are monogamous birds. Both mating partners construct their nesting placement, sometimes on the ground and other times 12 feet into the air in nearby shrubs and trees. Their nest is comprised of compacted sticks, twigs, reeds, leaves, and grasses forming a platform. They are about 12 inches across and vary in thickness from several inches to nearly a foot. Their clutch size is typically 3-4 eggs with a pale blue or green color and roughly 1.3-1.7 inches long. Eggs are incubated 20-22 days, nestled 2-3 weeks before the young are brave enough to wander out of their nest, 4-5 weeks before they attempt to fly and 6-7 weeks before they fully fledge and leave their nest. Both nesting pairs are responsible for incubating and feeding their young brood. The oldest Glossy Ibis recorded lived to the age of 21 years old and was found in Virginia.

Keep your eyes open next time you paddle through our surrounding salt marsh on Ayers Creek, Trappe Creek and other nearby creeks and bays and you might just come across this majestic creature. Sometimes you will see them popping up through the thick saltwater grasses, other times you will see them flying in flocks and droves in the sky above with their long bills and long legs outstretched.

Photo Credit - Greg Lavaty (c)


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