Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Northern Bald Ibis

Captive NHI at the Milwaukee County Zoo
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Aves
Order : Ciconiiformes
Family : Threskiornithidae
Genus : Geronticus  
Species : eremita

Length : 27-32in (69-81cm)
Weight : 1-1.3kg

IUCN Status : Critically Endangered

The Northern Bald Ibis, also known as the Waldrapp Ibis, is a bird that once had an extensive distribution across Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. These days their numbers are restricted to areas within Syria, Turkey, and Morocco, though tagging has shown that a handful birds migrate into other countries. Overall there are probably less than 700 of these birds in the wild, with around 1,200 involved in captive programs.

The population decline of these birds can be attributed to several causes. They have been hunted, their breeding sites have been disturbed, their overall habitat has been lost in many areas, and they have been adversely affected by pesticides. In Turkey in the 1950s, hundreds of these already rare birds were killed by DDT spraying, and the few survivors had a noticeably lower success breeding.

Currently there are efforts in place to reintroduce these birds into the wild. The International Advisory Group of the Northern Bald Ibis oversees the conditions of release, ensures genetic diversity in the species, and maintains the captive studbook. There have already been projects to reintroduce these birds into areas where they are now extinct, most notably in parts of Europe. One of the difficulties with these northern sites is that the birds need to learn to fly south in Winter. Ultralight planes (like those used for Whooping Cranes) have been tested to train the birds, and have shown that it is possible for the Ibises to learn in this manner.

Northern Bald Ibises are social birds that live in semi-arid steppe areas. They are carnivorous and feed on invertebrates, fish, and small reptiles. These birds nest in colonies, and both parents care for the young. Northern Bald Ibises are a relatively long lived species, and have reached 25-30 years in captivity.

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