White Ibis

Eudocimus albus

white ibises in flight

White ibis, photographed in flight over Boynton Beach and Delray Beach, Palm Beach County.

You might find a flock of white ibis, Eudocimus albus, grazing through your front lawn or foraging on the 18th hole. It is a marsh bird that doesn't seem constrained by the fact. It goes pretty much anywhere it might find food.

The white ibis is among the most common birds in and around the wetlands of South Florida. It's such an iconic part of the region — a signal of hurricanes coming and going — that the University of Miami chose the ibis to be its unofficial mascot in 1926 and its official mascot in 1987. Look closely at Sebastian and you see an anthropomorphic white ibis.

The long, curved, reddish bill, white body and black tipped wings make it easy to identify this bird. The glossy ibis and limpkin are similar in size and shape but are darker. Wood storks are closer in color but are larger overall, with a larger, darker and straighter bill.

Head out before dawn to the Lee Road boat ramp at Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in Boynton Beach, and you'll see gatherings of white ibis leaving their roosts in the pond apple and willow thickets beyond to begin a day of foraging in the surrounding fields and marshes. As sunset approaches, they return, hundreds, maybe thousands perching amid the community of herons, egrets, anhingas, grackles and others. At places like Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach, white ibis are so numerous that in the evenings they can literally turn trees and tree islands from green to white as they roost, their foraging done for the day.

White ibis is a year-round resident of South Florida. Their range is the extreme Southeast U.S., the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America and South America, including parts of Colombia and Venezuela.

Their menu includes crayfish, crabs, snails, worms, bugs, snakes, frogs and fish that they find either by sight or by touch while probing with their bill.

White ibis become sexually mature at two years; they form colonies, where they build platform nests in mangroves, thickets or tree islands. Both male and females build the nest, with males gathering most of the material and females doing most of the assembly. Both parents handle sitting and feeding duties. Incubation takes about three weeks; hatchlings can fly some at four or five and adeptly by seven. Immatures are a mottled brown. While ibis remain common, their numbers are declining as habitat disappears. They are members of Threskiornithidae, the family of ibis and storks.

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Published by Wild South Florida, PO Box 7241, Delray Beach, FL 33482.

Photographs by David Sedore. Photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without permission.