About Birds – White Ibis

(Guara alba)


Length—25 inches.

Male and Female—Plumage white, except the tips of four outer wing feathers, which are black. Bare space on head; most of bill and the long legs orange red. Long decurved bill tipped with dusky. Immature birds dull brown, except lower back and under parts, which are white.

Range—Warmer parts of United States, nesting as far north as Indiana, Illinois, and South Carolina; straying northward annually to Long Island, and casually to Connecticut and South Dakota; winters in West Indies, Central, and northern South America.

Season—Summer resident or visitor.

Flocks of these stately, picturesque birds, flying in close squadrons, their plumage glistening in the glare of a tropical sun, their legs trailing after them, are not so familiar a sight even in the Gulf states as once they were. Their destruction can be set down to nothing but wanton cruelty, for their flesh is totally unfit for food, and their usefulness is nil if it does not consist in enlivening waste places with their beauty.

Morning and evening the close ranks fly to and from the feeding grounds on the shores of lagoons and lakes, or to their favorite roosts, where their ancestors likely as not slept before them. Standing on one leg, with head and bill drawn in to rest between the shoulders and on the breast, the body in a perpendicular position, an ibis can remain motionless for hours, a picture of tropical indolence. The bill, which so closely resembles the curlew’s that this ibis is frequently called Spanish curlew, enables the bird to drag out the crayfish from its shell and pinch the last piece of flesh from soft-shelled crustaceans. Small fish, frogs, lizards, and other aquatic animal food never seem to fatten this slender bird, that is a ravenous feeder none the less.

Colonies of ibises build nests in ancestral nurseries, which may be in reedy marshes, or in low trees and bushes not far from good feeding grounds. Three to five pale greenish eggs marked with chocolate are found in the coarse, bulky nest of reeds and weed stalks.