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The scarlet ibis is probably the most dazzling species of long-legged, hardy wading birds belonging to the ibis group of the family Threskiornithidae. This medium-sized wader, identified by its remarkable scarlet coloration and long, curved bill, is native to tropical South America and the Caribbean islands. Although the scarlet ibis has been traditionally classified as a distinct species, some biologists have reclassified it (along with the American white ibis) as the subspecies of American ibis. In form and structure, the scarlet ibis closely resembles the American white ibis, but the main difference is their pigmentation.
Size: Adults vary in their length, ranging from 55-75 cm (22-30 in), while their wingspan measures approximately 54 cm (21 in).
Weight: These waders have an average weight of about 1.35-1.4 kg (3-3.1 lb).
Color: Adults have bright orange-red plumage, while their wingtips are marked by different tints and shades such as dark blue or rich inky black. They possess red feet and bills, which may have a blackish tip. Juvenile scarlet ibis birds have a mix of brown, gray, and white coloration.
Body: They have a medium-sized hardy body, with a long, decurved bill, as well as a long neck and legs that remain extended in flight.
Sexual dimorphism: Males have a slightly larger body than the females, and their bills are around 20%-22% longer than that of females.
Scarlet ibis has an extensive native range, and flocks of this wading bird are found in Columbia, Brazil, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Netherlands Antilles. The highest number of Scarlet ibis is found in the Los Llanos tropical grassland located between eastern Columbia and western Venezuela.
They occupy wetlands, as well as marshy and other aquatic habitats, including mudflats, rainforests, shorelines, estuaries, and shallow bays. They thrive in remote tropical grasslands that have not yet been disturbed by humans.
In the wild, scarlet ibis has a lifespan of about 16 years, but in captivity, it may live for approximately 20 years. The oldest recorded scarlet ibis survived for 31 years in captivity.
The majority of its diet includes insects, mostly comprising ground beetles and scarabs. It also feeds on small crabs, mollusks, shrimps, and other crustaceans. Captive birds are given carrot and beetroot supplement that helps maintain the brightness in their plumage.
Scarlet ibis has a social and colonial breeding system, with breeding occurring once each year. These waders build their nests close to one another to lessen the chances of predation. Males perform mating rituals, involving bill popping, preening, head rubbing, shaking, and high flights, to attract mates. A male often attacks an approaching female, if it does not stay in its display area. Mating occurs through contact between their cloacal openings.
They start building their colonial nests in mid-September, and the females lay their eggs between November and January. Females typically lay the first clutch of 3-5 smooth, matte eggs, 5-6 days after copulation. Both the parents incubate the eggs for 19-23 days, after which the chicks hatch. The chicks become capable of flight 35 days after hatching, and the young leave the colony when they are 75 days old.
The chicks are born featherless, but their coloration changes into a mix of brown, gray, and white when they become juveniles. With the onset of the second molt, the color of their feathers starts turning into scarlet.
The scarlet ibis is considered a protected species throughout the world. Although some local populations have started declining, its global population remains relatively large. It has received the status of ‘Least Concern’ from the IUCN. In Brazil, however, this wading bird species is regarded as an endangered species.