Bald Ibis

Beez Neez now Chy Whella
Big Bear and Pepe Millard
Sun 10 Jul 2011 22:10
The Northern Bald Ibis, Hermit Ibis, or Waldrapp


This odd looking, even ugly bird caught our eye as the weirdest thing we have ever see in the bird world. The Northern Bald Ibis, Hermit Ibis, or Waldrapp (Geronticus eremita) is a migratory bird found in barren, semi-desert or rocky habitats, often close to running water. This twenty eight to thirty one inch glossy black ibis, which, unlike other members of the ibis family, is non-wading, has an unfeathered red face and head, and a long, curved red bill. It breeds colonially on coastal or mountain cliff ledges, where it typically lays two to three eggs in a stick nest and feeds on lizards, insects and other small animals.




The Northern Bald Ibis was once widespread across the Middle East, northern Africa, southern and central Europe, with a fossil record dating back at least 1.8 million years. It disappeared from Europe over 300 years ago, and is now considered critically endangered. There are believed to be about five hundred wild birds remaining in southern Morocco, and fewer than ten in Syria, where it was rediscovered in 2002. To combat this ebb in numbers, recent reintroduction programs have been instituted internationally, with a semi-wild breeding colony in Turkey, as well as sites in Austria, Spain, and northern Morocco. The bird is on the critically endangered list, the reasons for the species' long-term decline are unclear, but hunting, loss of foraging habitat and pesticide poisoning have been implicated in the rapid loss of colonies in recent decades.




When they close their eyes they look even weirder


Zoo populations: There are about eight hundred and fifty Northern Bald Ibises in European zoos and a further two hundred and fifty in captivity in Japan and North America. The forty nine European zoos keeping this species produce eighty to a hundred young birds per year, and earlier attempts at releasing captive-bred birds included close to one hundred and fifty birds between 1976-86 from an aviary at Birecik, seventy five from Tel Aviv Zoo in 1983, and an unspecified number from a project in Almería, Spain, from 1991 to 1994; all these attempts were unsuccessful. All Northern Bald Ibises in zoos, other than those in Turkey, are of the western population, and were imported from Morocco. Three bloodlines exist; the earliest relates to importations to Zoo Basel, Switzerland in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the next is the descendants of birds taken in the 1970’s to stock Rabat Zoo, and the last captured wild birds were those taken to the Naturzoo, Rheine, in 1976 and 1978. Captive birds have a high incidence of skin problems, and 40% of those birds that had to be put down suffered from chronic ulcerative dermatitis, characterised by feather loss, rawness, and ulceration on the back, neck, and the undersides of the wings. The cause of this disease is unknown. Other major disease problems reported in zoo collections have been avian tuberculosis, gastric foreign bodies, bone disease, and heart problems. An outbreak of West Nile virus in Bronx Park, New York, involved Northern Bald Ibises amongst many other species of birds and mammals.



BF_Bronx_Zoo_240  BF_Bronx_Zoo_241


Europe: In 1504, a decree by Archbishop Leonhard of Salzburg made the Northern Bald Ibis one of the worlds earliest officially protected species. Despite the decree, it died out in Austria as elsewhere in Europe. There are now two ibis reintroduction projects in the country, at Grünau and Waldrapp. A research station at Grünau has a breeding colony managed, like the Turkish population, as a free-flying flock which is caged at migration time. The aim there is to investigate flock interactions and hormonal status, behavioural and ecological aspects of natural foraging, and the establishment of traditions via social learning. There is a planned reintroduction of the ibis at Ain Tijja-Mezguitem in the north-east of Morocco. Since the wild populations further south remain vulnerable, and the porous sandstone of their breeding ledges is exposed to erosion, the intention is to establish a non-migratory population (stocked from German, Swiss, and Austrian zoos) in an area where this species was known to have bred up to about 1980. The station in the Rif Mountains was built in 2000, and stocked with the first group of zoo-bred birds. A second importation of zoo-bred birds and the construction of an information centre took place in 2004. Six pairs bred in 2006 subsequent to a change in the birds' diet, and six offspring from five nests were successfully reared. In 2007 there were nineteen birds (thirteen adults and six juveniles) in the aviary. The rock walls of the mountains have many potential breeding ledges, and an artificial lake provides water to the birds and to the local human population. Steppe Pasture which is not exposed to herbicides or pesticides gives good foraging. Once the population reaches around forty birds, a release will be initiated, subject to international agreement. The reintroduction site is 475 miles from Agadir on the other side of the Atlas Mountains, so accidental contamination of the wild colonies is unlikely.




Sketch of Old Egyptian carvings depicting the Akh glyph


In culture: According to local legend in the Birecik area, the Northern Bald Ibis was one of the first birds that Noah released from the Ark as a symbol of fertility, and a lingering religious sentiment in Turkey helped the colonies there to survive long after the demise of the species in Europe, as described above. This ibis was revered as a holy bird and a symbol of brilliance and splendour in Ancient Egypt, where, together with the Sacred Ibis, it was regarded as a reincarnation of Thoth, scribe of the gods, who was usually depicted with a man's body and the head of an ibis. The Old Egyptian word akh, "to be resplendent, to shine", was denoted in hieroglyphs by a Bald Ibis, presumably as a reference to its glossy plumage. In a more abstract sense, akh stood for excellence, glory, honour, and virtue. It has also been used to signify the soul or spirit, one of five elements constituting personality.

BF_Bronx_Zoo_238  800px-Geronticus_eremita_close_up_1


Herodotus wrote of the man-eating Stymphalian birds, which had wings of brass and sharp metallic feathers they could fire at their victims. Ridding Lake Stymphalia in Arcadia of these creatures was one of the twelve labours of Heracles. These mythical birds are sometimes considered to be based on the Northern Bald Ibis, but since they were described as marsh birds, and usually depicted without crests, the legendary species is more likely to be derived from the Sacred Ibis. Some depictions, such as the 6th century BC Athenian black-figure amphora in the British Museum, clearly show the black head and white body of the latter species. After the Bald Ibis became extinct in Central Europe, some later writers thought that Gesner's description was itself one of several in his book depicting mythical creatures.

Several countries have produced postage stamps which depict the Northern Bald Ibis. They include Algeria, Morocco, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, and Yemen, which are breeding or migration locations; Austria, which is seeking to reintroduce the bird; and Jersey, which has a small captive population.