Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sacred Ibis

The Sacred Ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus) is a wading bird native to Sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar, and Iraq. They occur primarily in marshes and wetlands. Sacred Ibises stand around 30in tall, and are covered in white feathers with the exception of the neck and head. These are featherless and covered in black skin that begins to show around two years of age.

(Image Source)
Sacred Ibises get their name due to the fact that they were literally were worshiped as gods. The ancient Egyptians believed the Ibis to be the earthly manifestation of the scribe-god Thoth. They even mummified these birds, and one tomb group contained over one million Ibis mummies! Killing an Ibis was a act punishable by death, as it was also believed that the birds prevented plague. Interestingly, the birds actually did prevent a disease, Bilharzia (or Schistosomiasis). The disease is carried by a parasite that latches to snails that were a favorite snack of the Ibises. By eating these snails en masse the disease was kept at bay. Unfortunately, the Sacred Ibis is now extinct in the very country that once worshiped it, due to loss of swampland (and the disease that they once held in check has now reappeared there.)

The Sacred Ibis is able to eat a pretty wide variety of meals, thanks to their curved bills that allow them to probe into muddy areas. They eat snails, amphibians, and insects, and will also scavenge for other types of food on land, including other birds' eggs. Sacred Ibises are communal, and will sometimes even roost among other bird species. They are also very quiet, and only vocalize while on breeding grounds. Both parents assist in the guarding and feeding of chicks, who will fledge and leave the colony when they are less than two months old.

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