J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge in Florida is one of the best places in the United States to see, and photograph, long-legged wading birds in winter. Of the 16 species of long-legged wading birds that can be seen there, the White Ibis is one of the most common.
White IbisEudocimus albus
One of the most numerous wading birds in Florida, and common elsewhere in the southeast. Highly sociable at all seasons, roosting and feeding in flocks, nesting in large colonies. White Ibises fly in lines or V-formations, with several quick flaps followed by a short glide. When groups wade through shallows, probing with their long bills, other wading birds such as egrets may follow them to catch prey stirred up by the ibises.
Field MarksNote the red face, long decurved red bill, and restricted black wingtips. Immature is dark brownish; note the white belly, white rump, curved red bill. In flight, the neck is outstretched; flocks fly in strings, flapping and gliding; often soar in circles.
Size22-27" (55-68 cm)
Similar Species(1) Wood Stork is larger, with much more black. (2) Immature Glossy differs from immature White Ibis by uniform dark appearance with a dark bill. (3) Immature could be mistaken for Tricolored Heron except for the bill.
RangeSoutheastern United States to northern South America. Summer dispersal north to dash line.
MigrationPresent throughout year in most of breeding range, but numbers are much lower in winter in northern areas; banded birds from United States have been recovered in Mexico, Cuba, northern South America. May wander far north and inland after breeding season.
HabitatSalt, brackish, and fresh marshes, rice fields, mangroves. May forage in any kind of shallow water, commonly flying to feed in fresh water even in coastal regions. Foraging sites include marshes, mudflats, flooded pastures, lake edges, mangrove lagoons, grassy fields. Nests in mangroves, trees in swamps, dense thickets, sometimes on ground on islands or in marshes.
FeedingDiet: Varied; includes many crustaceans. Diet is quite variable, but crayfish and crabs are major items. Also eats insects, snails, frogs, marine worms, snakes, small fish.
Behavior: Forages by walking slowly in shallow water, sweeping bill from side to side and probing at bottom. Also forages on land, especially on mud or in short grass. Finds food by touch while probing, by sight at other times, seizing items from surface. White Ibises may steal food from each other and, in turn, have food stolen from them by larger species.
NestingBreeds in colonies, sometimes mixed with other wading birds. Displays of male include ritualized preening, leaning over and grasping twig in bill, pointing bill skyward and lowering head onto back.
Nest: Sites in mangroves, trees, and thickets, usually 2-15' above ground or water, sometimes higher or on ground. Nest built by both sexes, male bringing most material, female doing most of building. Material often stolen from nests of other pairs. Nest is usually platform of sticks, sometimes of cordgrass or reeds.
Eggs: 2-3, up to 5. Pale blue-green to white, blotched with brown. Incubation is by both sexes, averages 21 days.
Young: Both parents feed young, by regurgitation. Young may clamber about near nest after 3 weeks, can make short flights after 4-5 weeks, capable of sustained flight at 6 weeks, may leave colony to forage with adults after 7 weeks.
ConservationFlorida population much lower than historical levels. Total range in United States has increased somewhat, with northward spread on Atlantic Coast. Vulnerable to loss of feeding and nesting habitat.