White Ibis

So I managed to get quite a few pictures of the white ibis during our trip to South Padre Island in Texas back in 2013.

White Ibis at the South Padre Nature & Birding Center

One of the cool things to do on the island is going to their birding/nature center. This is a lost cost activity for the entire family (adults are $8, kids (4-12yrs) are $5, kids (13-18) are $7 (as are adults over 55), and if you have kids under the age of 4–they’re free with your ticket).

The South Padre Birding/Nature center offers a little over 3,000 feet of boardwalk that overlooks 43 acres of wetlands. Here you will be able to see numerous different birds, fish, crabs, and the American alligator.

The adult white ibis is basically all white, with the exception of its wings which have black-tipped feathers and their brilliant reddish-pink legs and beak. The reddish-pink color also extends to the bare skin surrounding their eyes.

White Ibis on the boardwalk rail, at the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center

The young go through two color phases before molting into their adult plumage. During thier first color phase (which is fall through winter), the young have brown feathers on their back and a white chest with a streaky brown neck; by the first summer they’re splotchy brown and white, then they’ll molt into the adult plumage of all white.

These are wetland birds and prefer areas where there is shallow water (preferably less than eight inches deep) for foraging. Therefore they can be found in freshwater marshes, coastal estuaries, mangroves, flooded pastures, mudflats and swamps.

Range map of the White Ibis. Map (c) birds of the world.

Though they have now been spotted foraging in yards and parks in southern Florida.

Since they’re wetland birds, the best places to try to spot them are along the coasts usually in large flocks–though sometimes you can spot individual ibises.

The diet of the white ibis consists of insects, crustaceans, and other invertebrates–though they have been known to stab (or pinch) fish, frogs, lizards, and newts as well.

They will poke around the muddy bottoms with their beaks until they feel something. Then using their beak like a pair of tweezers they will pinch their prey and pull it out of the water.

Depending on what they caught, they usually swallow their meal on the spot. If they caught a crayfish or crab, they will remove the claws before eating the rest of the animal.

If they caught some other crustacean that has a hard shell (including crabs) they will break the shell before eating the animal.

Though if they feel like their meal is too muddy–they will fly away with their food, wash it, and then eat it (or remove claws and shells and eat).

White Ibis at the South Padre Birding and Nature Center

One cool little fact about the white ibis–when the chick hatches, the beak is straight and it takes about two weeks before it starts to curve downwards.

Currently the only major threat to these birds is loss of habitat (wetlands), and since their global population is quite high (~290,000 breeding adults), they currently are not on any conservation list.

Photography goal: Get a picture of the ibis (or maybe a group) in flight, and also foraging for a meal.

References: https://www.spibirding.com and https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/White_Ibis