Threskiornis aethiopicus (sacred ibis)
- Summary of Invasiveness
- Taxonomic Tree
- Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature
- Distribution Table
- History of Introduction and Spread
- Risk of Introduction
- Habitat List
- Biology and Ecology
- Natural enemies
- Notes on Natural Enemies
- Means of Movement and Dispersal
- Pathway Causes
- Impact Summary
- Economic Impact
- Environmental Impact
- Threatened Species
- Social Impact
- Risk and Impact Factors
- Uses List
- Detection and Inspection
- Similarities to Other Species/Conditions
- Prevention and Control
- Links to Websites
- Distribution Maps
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PicturesTop of page
IdentityTop of page
Preferred Scientific Name
- Threskiornis aethiopicus (Latham, 1790)
Preferred Common Name
- sacred ibis
Other Scientific Names
- Tantalus aethiopicus Latham 1790
- Threskiornis aethiopica
Local Common Names
- France: ibis sacré
- Germany: heiliger Ibis
- Spain: ibis sagrado
Summary of InvasivenessTop of page
T. aethiopicus is commonly presented in zoological parks around the world; in several cases, birds are allowed to fly freely and can move out of the zoo limits and constitute feral populations. The first feral populations were observed in the 1970s in eastern Spain and in the 1990s in western France; more recently they have been observed in southern France, northern Italy, Taiwan, The Netherlands and the eastern USA. In France, these populations rapidly became numerous (more than 5000 birds in western France) and spread over some thousand kilometres, giving rise to new colonies. Although the impacts of feral populations of ibis have not been analysed in all introduced areas, studies in western and southern France indicate the predatory impact of this opportunist bird (especially destruction of tern and heron eggs and young, and capture of amphibians), as has been observed in its native range (South Africa; Williams and Ward, 2006). Other impacts are observed, such as the destruction of vegetation at breeding sites, or suspected, such as the spreading of diseases -- ibises frequently visit rubbish dumps and slurry pits to catch insect larvae and can then move to pastures or poultry farms.
Taxonomic TreeTop of page
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Metazoa
- Phylum: Chordata
- Subphylum: Vertebrata
- Class: Aves
- Order: Ciconiiformes
- Family: Threskiornithidae
- Genus: Threskiornis
- Species: Threskiornis aethiopicus
Notes on Taxonomy and NomenclatureTop of page
The Black-headed Ibis (Threskiornis melanocephalus) in south Asia and the Australian White Ibis (Threskiornis molucca) in Australia are considered by some authors as races of T. aethiopicus.
DescriptionTop of page
T. aethiopicus has a length of 65-89 cm and a wingspan of 112-124 cm; the weight is about 1500g (Urban, 1974). The female adults are smaller, especially the bill. The plumage is white with primaries and secondaries tipped black. The bill is curved and thick. The head and the neck are bare and black. Immature birds have blackish-brown tertials and the head and neck are feathered (Hoyo et al., 1992; Reeber, 2005).
DistributionTop of page
T. aethiopicus in zoos seem to originate essentially from Kenya. There are also exchanges of birds between zoos. Today there are numerous small feral populations of T. aethiopicus around the world. The oldest populations, as in France, remained stable at low numbers for several years before exploding about 10 years ago. The current biggest feral population occurs in western France and tagged birds have dispersed to some neighbouring countries. The Italian population seems to have been spreading in recent years.
Distribution TableTop of page
The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.
|Continent/Country/Region||Distribution||Last Reported||Origin||First Reported||Invasive||Reference||Notes|
|Iraq||Present||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992||Amara|
|Kuwait||Present, few occurrences||Native||Not invasive||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|United Arab Emirates||Present||Introduced||1976||Lever, 2005|
|Aldabra||Present||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|Angola||Present||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|Benin||Present||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|Botswana||Present||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|Burkina Faso||Present||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|Burundi||Present||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|Cameroon||Present||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|Central African Republic||Present||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|Chad||Present||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|Congo||Present||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|Congo Democratic Republic||Present||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|Côte d'Ivoire||Present||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|Djibouti||Present||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|Equatorial Guinea||Present||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|Eritrea||Present||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|Ethiopia||Widespread||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|Gabon||Present||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|Gambia||Present||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|Ghana||Present||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|Guinea||Present||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|Guinea-Bissau||Present||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|Kenya||Widespread||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|Lesotho||Present||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|Liberia||Present||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|Madagascar||Present||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|Malawi||Present||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|Mozambique||Present||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|Nigeria||Present||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|Rwanda||Present||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|Senegal||Present||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|Sierra Leone||Present||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|Somalia||Present||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|South Africa||Widespread||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|-Canary Islands||Present||2005||Introduced||1997||Not invasive||Lever, 2005; Clergeau and Yésou, 2006||Only a few pairs from 1997|
|Sudan||Present||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|Swaziland||Present||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|Tanzania||Present||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|Togo||Present||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|Uganda||Present||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|Zambia||Present||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|Zimbabwe||Present||Native||Hoyo et al., 1992|
|USA||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|-Florida||Widespread||Introduced||1990s||Herring et al., 2006; Herring and Gawlik, 2008||Only a few nests in 4 colonies. Breeding only since 2005.|
|Belgium||Absent, formerly present||Not invasive||Clergeau and Yésou, 2006||One attempt at breeding in 2001|
|France||Widespread||Introduced||Invasive||Clergeau and Yésou, 2006||First feral reproduction in western France in 1991, in southern France in 2000|
|Germany||Present only in captivity/cultivation||Not invasive||Clergeau and Yésou, 2006|
|Italy||Widespread||2008||Introduced||1989||Clergeau and Yésou, 2006||At least 3 colonies in the Piedmont|
|Luxembourg||Present only in captivity/cultivation||Not invasive||Clergeau and Yésou, 2006|
|Netherlands||Present, few occurrences||Introduced||2002||Not invasive||Ottens, 2006|
|Portugal||Present, few occurrences||Introduced||1998||Clergeau and Yésou, 2006||Coimbra?|
|Spain||Present||Introduced||Lever, 2005; Clergeau and Yésou, 2006; Juana, 2006||Feral populations in Catalonia (1974, possibly eradicated); Malaga (1997?); Andalucia (2008, possibly eradicated)|
|UK||Present, few occurrences||Introduced||Not invasive||J. Marchant, British Trust for Ornithology, Thetford, UK, personal comunication, 2011|
History of Introduction and SpreadTop of page
All the introductions of T. aethiopicus are linked to escape from zoos. The history of the spread and breeding of the species is briefly presented here (For more details and other populations see Yésou and Clergeau (2005) and Clergeau and Yésou (2006)).
Risk of IntroductionTop of page
The risk of introduction is completely linked to zoos. Sometimes individuals escape from captivity, but in general, the birds are allowed to fly freely and can move out of the zoo limits and form feral populations. The use of pinioning or of large aviaries seems indispensable to prevent this.
HabitatTop of page
In Africa, T. aethiopicus forages in a diversity of open habitats, both wet and dry, including natural grassland but also artificial sites such as dams, sewage works, sites used for washing pigs, dung heaps, refuse dumps and cultivated land, as well as coastal lagoons, intertidal areas and coastal islets (Clark, 1979; A. J. Williams, University of Cape Town, Western Cape Nature Conservation Board, Rondebosch, South Africa, personal communication, 2005). Their nest and roost sites also show a high diversity in Africa, from wetlands and coastal islands to urban parks (review in Brown et al., 1982; Hancock et al., 1992).
Habitat ListTop of page
|Inland saline areas||Principal habitat||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Inland saline areas||Principal habitat||Natural|
|Terrestrial – Managed||Cultivated / agricultural land||Secondary/tolerated habitat||Natural|
|Managed grasslands (grazing systems)||Secondary/tolerated habitat||Natural|
|Industrial / intensive livestock production systems||Secondary/tolerated habitat||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Industrial / intensive livestock production systems||Secondary/tolerated habitat||Natural|
|Disturbed areas||Secondary/tolerated habitat||Natural|
|Urban / peri-urban areas||Secondary/tolerated habitat||Natural|
|Terrestrial ‑ Natural / Semi-natural||Natural grasslands||Secondary/tolerated habitat||Natural|
|Wetlands||Principal habitat||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Coastal areas||Principal habitat||Natural|
|Intertidal zone||Principal habitat||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Intertidal zone||Principal habitat||Natural|
|Salt marshes||Principal habitat||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Salt marshes||Principal habitat||Natural|
|Irrigation channels||Secondary/tolerated habitat||Natural|
|Reservoirs||Secondary/tolerated habitat||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Rivers / streams||Secondary/tolerated habitat||Natural|
Biology and EcologyTop of page
ClimateTop of page
|Am - Tropical monsoon climate||Preferred||Tropical monsoon climate ( < 60mm precipitation driest month but > (100 - [total annual precipitation(mm}/25]))|
|Cf - Warm temperate climate, wet all year||Preferred||Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, wet all year|
Natural enemiesTop of page
|Natural enemy||Type||Life stages||Specificity||References||Biological control in||Biological control on|
|Rattus norvegicus||Predator||Juvenile||not specific||No|
Notes on Natural EnemiesTop of page
The predators of T. aethiopicus are not numerous. Rats (Rattus norvegicus) have been noted in a Mediterranean colony feeding on young or eggs, and the gulls Larus argentatus and Larus michahellis may also do so. However, the spatial concentration of nests in ibis colonies strongly limits predation, which is observed mainly when the majority of adults leave the colony because of a disturbance. Predation on roost sites also seems rare because the layer of droppings on the soil limits the presence of foxes Vulpes vulpes (personal observation: P. Clergeau, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France) and because the birds are not very accessible to ground predators when perched.
Means of Movement and DispersalTop of page
As a first step, birds were transported by plane from native areas where they were captured, such as Kenya, to numerous zoos, especially during the 1970s.
As a second step, the high breeding success in captivity permits numerous exchanges of individuals between zoos.
As a third step, in several cases the birds are allowed to fly freely within the zoo and then settle nearby, for example in Brittany (France), Florida (USA) or Catalonia (Spain), or spread into other regions up to hundreds kilometres away such as in western France (Clergeau and Yésou, 2006).
Pathway CausesTop of page
|Botanical gardens and zoos||Origin: East Africa. Introduction: many countries||Yes||Clergeau and Yésou, 2006; Clergeau et al., 2005; Ottens, 2006|
|Escape from confinement or garden escape||In Taiwan, USA, Spain, France, Italy, Portugal, Canary Islands, Netherlands||Yes||Clergeau and Yésou, 2006; Clergeau et al., 2005; Herring and Gawlik, 2008; Ottens, 2006|
Impact SummaryTop of page
Economic ImpactTop of page
Economic impact of T. aethiopicus is not documented anywhere. Suspicions of tourism impact could exist in a case where a pine wood has been destroyed by droppings under nest colonies (Island of Morbihan, France). Destruction of the structure of salt pans has been observed in Brittany, involving an increase in human work (Clergeau et al., 2005).
Environmental ImpactTop of page
Impact on habitats
Threatened SpeciesTop of page
|Threatened Species||Conservation Status||Where Threatened||Mechanism||References||Notes|
|Bubulcus ibis (cattle egret)||No Details||France||Predation||Yésou and Clergeau, 2005|
|Chlidonias hybridus||LC (IUCN red list: Least concern) LC (IUCN red list: Least concern)||France||Predation||Yésou and Clergeau, 2005|
|Chlidonias niger||National list(s) National list(s)||France||Predation||Yésou and Clergeau, 2005|
|Sterna sandvicensis||No details No details||France||Predation||Yésou and Clergeau, 2005|
Social ImpactTop of page
As shown in T. molucca (Epstein et al., 2007), T. aethiopicus is suspected of spreading disease since it frequently forages in rubbish dumps and slurry pits. Studies of different pathogens are in progress at the Veterinary School of Nantes, France.
Risk and Impact FactorsTop of page Invasiveness
- Invasive in its native range
- Proved invasive outside its native range
- Has a broad native range
- Abundant in its native range
- Highly adaptable to different environments
- Is a habitat generalist
- Capable of securing and ingesting a wide range of food
- Highly mobile locally
- Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
- Long lived
- Has high reproductive potential
- Damaged ecosystem services
- Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
- Infrastructure damage
- Reduced native biodiversity
- Threat to/ loss of endangered species
- Threat to/ loss of native species
- Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
- Difficult/costly to control
UsesTop of page
Uses ListTop of page
- Botanical garden/zoo
Detection and InspectionTop of page
In France, T. aethiopicus is monitored by a census conducted by different bird associations and co-ordinated by P. Yésou of the Office National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage (ONCFS).
Similarities to Other Species/ConditionsTop of page
Threskiornis melanocephalus (Asian race) has primaries and secondaries tipped grey and the neck is largely white. Threskiornis molucca (Australian race) has primaries and secondaries tipped black and the neck is also white. These two birds have extensive feathering up the neck, with ornamental plumes on the foreneck (Hoyo et al., 1992; Reeber, 2005).
Prevention and ControlTop of page
In several cases (e.g. Portugal and Belgium) the first breeding of T. aethiopicus was not followed by establishment of a feral population. Management of the species (limitation or eradication attempts) has been conducted in Spain and France.
ReferencesTop of page
Clergeau P; Fourcy D; Reeber S; Yésou P, 2010. New but nice? Do alien sacred ibises Threskiornis aethiopicus stabilize nesting colonies of native spoonbills Platalea leucorodia at Grand-Lieu Lake, France? Oryx, 44(4):533-538. http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayJournal?jid=ORX
Clergeau P; Reeber S; Bastian S; Yésou P, 2010. Diet of the Sacred Ibis Threskiornis aethiopicus introduced in metropolitan France: a generalist or specialist species? (Le profil alimentaire de l'ibis sacré Threskiornis aethiopicus introduit en France métropolitaine: espèce généraliste ou spécialiste?) Revue d'Écologie (la Terre et la Vie), 65:331-342.
Clergeau P; Yésou P; Chadenas C, 2005. Ibis sacré Threskiornis aethiopicus, état actuel et impacts potentiels des populations introduites en France métropolitaine. Rennes - Nantes, France: INRA-ONCFS.
Epstein JH; McKee J; Shaw P; Hicks V; Micalizzi G; Daszak P; Kilpatrick AM; Kaufman G, 2007. The Australian White ibis Threskiornis molucca as a reservoir of zoonotic and livestock pathogens. Ecohealth, 3:290-298.
Kayser Y; Clément D; Gauthier-Clerc M, 2005. The sacred ibis Threskiornis aethiopicus on the French Mediterranean littoral: impact on the avifauna. (L'Ibis sacré Threskiornis aethiopicus sur le littoral méditerranéen français: impact sur l'avifaune.) Ornithos, 12(2):84-86.
Marion L; Marion P, 1994. [English title not available]. (Première installation spontanée d'une colonie d'ibis sacré, Threskiornis aethiopicus, au lac de Grand-lieu. Données préliminaires sur la production en jeunes et sur le régime alimentaire.) Alauda, 62:275-280.
Vaslin M, 2005. Predation of the sacred ibis Threskiornis aethiopicus on colonies of terns. (Prédation de l'Ibis sacré Threskiornis aethiopicus sur des colonies de sternes et de guifettes.) Ornithos, 12(2):106-109.
Yésou P; Calbelguen J; Potiron JL, 2006. Some aspects of the reproduction of the sacred ibis Threskiornis aethiopicus in the Loire estuary. (Quelques aspects de la reproduction de l'Ibis sacré Threskiornis aethiopicus dans l'estuaire de la Loire.) Alauda, 74:421-427.
OrganizationsTop of page
Germany: African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA), Hermann-Ehlers-Str. 10, 53113 Bonn, http://www.unep-aewa.org/
ContributorsTop of page
14/07/09 Original text by:
Philippe Clergeau, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Dept. Ecol. & Gestion de la Biodiversité, UMR 5173, 55 rue Buffon - CP 51, 75005 Paris, France
Distribution MapsTop of page
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