Birds – Wood Ibis

(Tantalus loculator)


Length—40 inches.

Male and Female—Head and neck bare, and bluish or yellowish ; plumage white, except the primaries and secondaries of wings and the tail, which are greenish black. Legs blue, blackish toward the toes; long, thick, decurved bill, dingy yellow. Immature birds have head covered with down; plumage dark gray, with blackish wings and tail, but soon whitening.

Range—” Southern United States, from the Ohio Valley, Colorado, Utah, southeastern California, etc., south to Argentine Republic; casually northward to Pennsylvania and New York.”—A. O. U.

Season—Resident, or summer visitor.

Like the turkey buzzards, this wood stork has the fascinating grace of flight that one never tires of watching, as the birds, first mounting upward with strong wing beats, go sailing away over-head in great spirals, floating on motionless, wide wings, wheeling, gyrating, rising, falling, skimming in and out of the pathless maze that a flock follows as if its members were playing a sedate game of cross tag. With necks distended and legs trailing on a horizontal with their bodies, their length is extreme. As these birds are gluttonous feeders, it has been suggested that their flights, like the buzzard’s, are taken for exercise to quicken their digestion.

There is a tradition to the effect that the wood ibis is a solitary misanthrope, but Audubon mentions thousands in a flock; and while the day of such sights has passed forever in this land of bird butchers, one rarely sees a lone fisherman in the south today, and where one meets the bird at all, it is likely to be in the company of at least a score of its kind, with possibly a few buzzards sailing in their midst. ” The great abundance of the wood ibis on the Colorado, especially the lower portions of the river,” says Dr. Coues, ” has not been generally recognized until of late years, . . . but the swampy tracts and bayous of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida are . . . their favorite homes.”

Speaking of a hunting trip on the Myakka River in west Florida, in 1879, Mr. G. O. Shields writes : ” As we walked quietly around a bend in the river, just out of sight of our camp, and came to an open glade or meadow of perhaps an acre, a sight met our eyes that might have inspired the soul of a poet or have awakened in the mind of the prosiest human being visions of Paradise. There sat great flocks of richly colored birds, the backs of which were nearly white, the wings and breast a rich and varied pink, changing in some of the males to almost scarlet. These were the roseate spoonbills [now nearly extinct]. In an-other part of the glade was a large flock of the stately wood ibis, with body of pure white, and wings a glossy radiant purple and black. In still another part, a flock of snowy white egrets, and here and there a blue or gray heron, or other tropical bird. Alarmed at our approach they all arose, but, as if aware their matchless beauty was a safeguard against the destroying hand of man, they soared around over our heads for several minutes before flying away. As they thus hovered over us we stood and contemplated the scene in silent awe and admiration. Our guns were at a parade rest. We had no desire to stain a single one of the exquisite plumes with blood.”

Indolent as creatures of the tropics are wont to be, the wood stork goes to no further effort to secure a dinner than dancing about in the shallow edges of the lagoon, to stir up the mud, which brings the fish to the top. A sharp stroke from its heavy bill leaves the fish floating about dead to serve as bait. With head drawn in between its shoulders, a pensive, sedate figure, the stork now calmly waits for other fish, frogs, lizards, or other reptiles to approach the bait, when, quick as thought, it strikes right and left, helping itself to the choicest food, and leaving the rest for the buzzards and alligators. A sun bath after such a gorge completes its happiness.