Though the bird is primarily a resident of states west of the Ozarks, it is sometimes spotted at Missouri wetlands and marshes when these birds make migratory trips through this region in the fall and spring.
Species: White-faced ibis
Scientific name: Plegadis chihi
Claim to fame: Ibises are long-beaked birds that many viewers of nature programs associate with watering holes in the African jungle or, perhaps, the marshy areas of the Nile or some other well-known exotic river. However, several ibis species reside in the North America and one – the white-faced ibis – can be seen on occasion in Missouri. Though the bird is primarily a resident of states west of the Ozarks, it is sometimes spotted at Missouri wetlands and marshes when these birds make migratory trips through this region in the fall and spring.
Species status: White-faced ibis numbers appear to be declining, primary because of the loss of habitat and the heavy use of pesticides.
First discovered: The first scientific description of the white-faced ibis was written in 1817 by the French ornithologist Louis Jean Pierre Vieillot. Viellot was one of the first ornithologists to study live birds (his predecessors and many of his successors – including the reknowned John James Audubon – frequently shot birds of all types so they could study them in detail.) Viellot was also one of the first naturalists to study seasonal changes in bird plumage. He wrote scientific descriptions of 32 genera and 26 species of North American birds and an even greater number of South American birds. Despite these significant accomplishments, Vieillot was overshadowed by later and better-known ornithologists like Audubon and Alexander Wilson. Vieillot died in poverty and almost complete obscurity in 1831.
Family matters: White-faced ibises belong to the bird family Threskiornithidae. Within this group, the white-faced ibis is often put in the bird sub-family Threskiornithinae – a group called the ibises. Ibises are wading birds characterized by long legs and long, down-turned beaks.
Length: 22 inches to 25 inches
Diet: A white-faced ibis’ diet consists of crayfish, frogs, fish, snails, insects and a variety of aquatic invertebrates that reside in shallow-water marshes.
Weight: Up to 525 grams
Distinguishing characteristics: This long-legged bird is dark, chestnut-colored with green or purple tints on its head and upper body parts. It has a narrow border of white feathers all around the base of its bill – hence the name “white-faced.” This ibis has reddish legs and feet and red bare skin on its face around the eyes. The most noticeable characteristic of this bird is its long (up to seven inches in length), downward-turned bill. .
Life span: Information not available
Habitat: During migratory stopovers in Missouri, white-faced ibises can typically be found in freshwater wetland habitats that include shallow-water areas and pockets of emergent vegetation.
Life cycle: Courtship and breeding activities take place in spring and early summer in western states. Ibises are colonial nesters and will typically construct a deep-cup nest made of reeds in beds of bulrushes or they may nest in trees. Nests are lined with grasses. Clutches usually consist of three to four greenish-blue eggs, which hatch in 21-22 days. The male and female both share in the parenting responsibilities of incubation and brooding of the nestlings. The young fledge at four to five weeks. Ibis winter in the southern United States, the Gulf Coast region and in Central and South America.