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Ibis are medium size to large wading and terrestrial birds, related to storks and very closely related to spoonbills. They have a longish neck and legs and the males are generally larger than the females and have longer bills. All ibis species have bare spots, usually on the face or throat. The sacred ibis Threskiornis aethiopica, black-headed ibis Threskiornis melanocephalus, and Australian white ibis Threskiornis molucca also have featherless areas on the breast. These bare areas turn a deep red during the breeding season. Long legs and toes help make the ibis just as comfortable walking as flying or perching in trees.
The long, thin bill of an ibis is perfect for probing in water or mud, or even in cracks in dry ground, in its search for food. The ibis uses its bill to feel around for tasty items such as grasshoppers, beetles, worms, crustaceans, fish, and carrion. Sensitive feelers on the inside of their bill help the bird identify food before it even sees it. The bird's nostrils are at the base of the bill, so the ibis can breathe while sticking its bill in the water or mud!
The more the merrier
Most ibis species live in large flocks. They even fly in flocks, either in a regular line or in a "V" formation grouping. They beat their wings in unison and even go from flapping to gliding at the same time. Ibis nest in groups that can number from hundreds to thousands of breeding pairs. Parents share nest-building duties and both help care for their young. Nesting sites may be found in tall trees, bushes, and even the side of high cliffs. Most nest sites are found near the water.
Love is in the air, you can hear it all around
Breeding season for ibis varies, depending on the species and its habitat. Ibis are normally silent birds, but during breeding season they may surprise you. Both males and females may make squeaks and breathing sounds described as "whoot-whoot," "whoot-whooeeoh," "yuk-pyuk-peuk-pek-peok," or a wheezing "hnhh-hnhh." Females also make a call that is similar to "whaank," "turroh," and "keerooh" when calling their young.
The scarlet ibis—the blushing bird
White or black, brown or gray, or even a bright orange-red, the coloration of ibis feathers is related to their feeding behavior and habitat. The scarlet ibis Eudocimus ruber is one of the most striking of all the ibis species. They get the pink, orange, and reddish color from the rich source of pigments in the algae and small crustaceans that they eat. Their legs and feet are also pink in color. Along with their scarlet coloring, adult birds have dark blue tips on four of their outer primary feathers. At the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park the scarlet ibis are fed a dry diet that is made for flamingos. The diet has balanced nutritional content to supply the pigments they need to keep their beautiful scarlet color.
Lending a helping beak
Ibis have helped humans all over the world. These birds help to rid gardens and crops of insects and other small
Also by Lucy Jackalone
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