Birds – Sacred Ibis

The oldest known, and in many respects the most interesting and the one about which clusters so much of ancient history and mythology, is, of course, the Sacred Ibis (Ibis othiopica) of the Egyptians. As it was the “emblem of Shott, the scribe or secretary of Osiris, whose duty it is to write down and recount the deeds of the deceased,” it is constantly to be seen carved in various forms on the ancient monuments, and its mummified bodies are found abundantly within the temples. It is about twenty-five inches in length, and has the entire head and throat bare and black in color. The plumage is pure white above and below, the secondaries being loose, dependent, ornamental plumes, with purple edges. Although once undoubtedly abundant in Egypt, it is now so rare that there has been expressed doubt if it was really entitled to be ranked as a native of that country. It is a native of Africa generally, especially the Nile basin, and follows down as the river rises, arriving in Egypt about midsummer, and retiring before winter, the season in which most Europeans visit the country, hence thought by them to be absent.

Closely allied to the Sacred Ibis is Bernier’s Ibis (I. Bernieri) of Madagascar, a smaller bird, with a less extent of naked space on the neck and ashy instead of purple-edged plumes. Still another related species, the Black-headed Ibis (I. Melanocephala), is found in India and near-by countries, and this gives place to the Australian White Ibis (I. Molucca).