By Doug Iverson
The White-faced Ibis, a species seen mostly in migration in the Prescott area, is an unmistakable bird when sighted. It is a gregarious species you might first see in a flock of 15 or more birds as they circle over Willow or Watson lakes looking for suitable shoreline shallows. They may circle as if uncertain or wary before landing close to shore where they can be hidden from view by shoreline vegetation.
Depending on location, an Ibis will feed on insects, earthworms, snails, newts, frogs, fish, crayfish, and other invertebrates it can spear with its long, decurved bill, often digging prey out of the mud in a marsh, on a shallow shoreline, in an irrigated field, or even in damp soil. They will change both feeding and breeding locations depending on the availability of suitable habitat in a given year.
White-faced Ibis have a rich metallic luster, bronze-green feathers, long pinkish legs, pinkish lores, and white feathers on the face at the base of the bill. The White-faced Ibis can be distinguished from the Glossy Ibis only in breeding season when it has the border of white feathers on the facial skin behind the bill — they were formerly called White-faced Glossy Ibis — but this is not a local identification problem because we have no Glossy Ibis.
The Ibis was a sacred bird of Ancient Egyptians, and the subject of many myths and superstitions. In lower Egypt it is called Abou-mengel, “Father of the Sickle,” referring to its long, curved bill. There are about 30 species of Ibis world wide.
Ibis are monogamous colonial breeders that suffered a decline in numbers in the 1970s when egg shells were too thin to hatch due to certain pesticides such as DDT, but populations have recovered since these pesticides were outlawed. Now, the main threat to their well-being is loss of habitat.
The shape of their feet makes them good perching birds, so their nests may be built off the ground. Nest building, incubating and feeding of the young are done by both parents.
Visit Prescott Audubon Society at PrescottAudubon.Org. Contact them at Contact@PrescottAudubon.Org.
Doug Iverson, a retired English teacher, is secretary of the Prescott Audubon Society and a board member.