Scarlet Ibis

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.

Scarlet Ibis Scientific Classification

Animalia
Chordata
Aves
Pelecaniformes
Threskiornithidae
Eudocimus
Eudocimus ruber

Table Of Content

Scientific Classification

Scarlet Ibis

Animalia
Chordata
Aves
Pelecaniformes
Threskiornithidae
Eudocimus
Eudocimus ruber

Physical Description and Appearance

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).

Scarlet Ibis

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.

Distribution

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.

What Kind of Habitats do Scarlet Ibis live in

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.

Lifespan

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.

Picture of Scarlet Ibis
Scarlet Ibis Image

Diet

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.

Behavioral Characteristics

  • The bird spends most of the time moving on foot and wading through water.
  • It is a migratory species and an efficient flyer. Seasonally, it flies great distances towards the coastline, or to the inland mangroves and swamps. When they are in flight, flocks of scarlet ibis move in a V formation.
  • The scarlet ibis, being gregarious and sociable, lives in flocks that consist of thirty or more individuals. Together, they search for food as well as protect the young from danger.
  • For gaining safety while feeding and flying, it regularly participates and assembles in mixed-bird flocks that may consist of hundreds or thousands of egrets, herons, storks, ducks, and spoonbills.
  • It makes a honking sound to indicate that there are disturbances in its nest. The babies produce a shrill cry to let their parents know they need food.

Adaptations

  • Its long, curved beak helps it in probing for food into shallow water and mud flats.
  • Scarlet ibis has a strong beak, long legs, and large wings, which it uses to fight against predators (including birds of prey and large cats) and protect its offspring.
Scarlet Ibis Flying
Scarlet Ibis Bird

Mating and Reproduction

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.

What does the Scarlet Ibis Chick look like

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.

Scarlet Ibis Female
Scarlet Ibis Eggs

Conservation Status

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.

Interesting Facts

  • The scarlet ibis is regarded as one of the national birds of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. The bird also appears on their coat of arms.
  • It gets the stunning orange-red color of its plumage from the carotenoids, a class of compounds found within the crustaceans that constitute a significant portion of its diet.
  • The bird has featured in several notable literary works, including the 1960-short-story ‘The Scarlet Ibis’ by James Hurst.

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