The Northern Bald Ibis has a very distinctive appearance, with a bare red face, neck and throat and long, narrow feathers projecting from the back of the head and neck, forming a dark ‘ruff’.
Their numbers have continuously declined over the centuries due to unidentified natural events like climate cooling. Its family, the Threskiornithidae, dates back to fossil records from 60 million years ago, and it shares its genus, Geronticus, with only one other species.
Their decline has accelerated in recent decades due to pressures from human activities and the species now listed as Critically Endangered. A major population crash occurred in the 1950s with the introduction of pesticides, notably DDT. It disappeared from virtually all of its existing range apart from two sites in Morocco.
Conservation efforts were initiated in the 1970s and breeding individuals have since been located in Syria. One innovative conservation effort carried out by the Waldrapp team successfully hand-reared Northern Bald Ibises and released them into the wild by training them to follow a para-motor. This paved the way for a range of innovative release methodologies. Captive breeding programmes and recent satellite tracking has given greater insight into the biology and movements of the species, such that its survival looks positive. However, over 95% of truly wild birds are concentrated in one subpopulation in Morocco.
- Order: Pelecaniformes
- Family: Threskiornithidae
- Population: 200-249
- Trend: decreasing
- Size: 70-80 cm
- Weight: 1-1.3kg
Two populations exist in the wild, one in Morocco with a relict population in Syria and the Middle East.
Habitat and Ecology
Breeding typically occurs in dry areas of rocky terrain like cliffs and escarpments. Nests are often found near watercourses especially on river cliffs and sometimes sea cliffs. Ibises forage in groups on dry, rocky slopes and sandy banks, feeding on invertebrates, and small vertebrates such as frogs, lizards, fish, birds and rodents. Individuals may roost in trees or fields when not nesting. In the non-breeding season they are found in pastures, cultivated fields, and meadows, with a preference for open areas with short grass or sparse vegetation.