Home      Discussion      Topics      Dictionary      Almanac
Signup       Login
Northern Bald Ibis

Northern Bald Ibis

Discussion
Ask a question about 'Northern Bald Ibis'
Start a new discussion about 'Northern Bald Ibis'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Encyclopedia
The Northern Bald Ibis, Hermit Ibis, or Waldrapp (Geronticus eremita) is a migratory bird
Bird
Birds are feathered, winged, bipedal, endothermic , egg-laying, vertebrate animals. Around 10,000 living species and 188 families makes them the most speciose class of tetrapod vertebrates. They inhabit ecosystems across the globe, from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Extant birds range in size from...

 found in barren, semi-desert or rocky habitats, often close to running water. This 70–80 cm (28–31 in) glossy black ibis
Ibis
The ibises are a group of long-legged wading birds in the family Threskiornithidae....

, which, unlike other members of the ibis family, is non-wading, has an unfeathered red face and head, and a long, curved red bill. It breeds colonially on coastal or mountain cliff ledges, where it typically lays 2–3 eggs in a stick nest, and feeds on lizards, insects, and other small animals.

The Northern Bald Ibis was once widespread across the Middle East
Middle East
The Middle East is a region that encompasses Western Asia and Northern Africa. It is often used as a synonym for Near East, in opposition to Far East...

, northern Africa
North Africa
North Africa or Northern Africa is the northernmost region of the African continent, linked by the Sahara to Sub-Saharan Africa. Geopolitically, the United Nations definition of Northern Africa includes eight countries or territories; Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, South Sudan, Sudan, Tunisia, and...

, southern
Southern Europe
The term Southern Europe, at its most general definition, is used to mean "all countries in the south of Europe". However, the concept, at different times, has had different meanings, providing additional political, linguistic and cultural context to the definition in addition to the typical...

 and central Europe
Central Europe
Central Europe or alternatively Middle Europe is a region of the European continent lying between the variously defined areas of Eastern and Western Europe...

, with a fossil record dating back at least 1.8 million years. It disappeared from Europe over 300 years ago, and is now considered critically endangered
Critically Endangered
Critically Endangered is the highest risk category assigned by the IUCN Red List for wild species. Critically Endangered means that a species' numbers have decreased, or will decrease, by 80% within three generations....

. There are believed to be about 500 wild birds remaining in southern Morocco
Morocco
Morocco , officially the Kingdom of Morocco , is a country located in North Africa. It has a population of more than 32 million and an area of 710,850 km², and also primarily administers the disputed region of the Western Sahara...

, and fewer than 10 in Syria
Syria
Syria , officially the Syrian Arab Republic , is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest....

, where it was rediscovered in 2002. To combat this ebb in numbers, recent reintroduction
Reintroduction
Reintroduction is the deliberate release of a species into the wild in zones formerly inhabited by said species but where it has disappeared from for a number of reasons, from captivity or relocated from other areas where the species still survives in...

 programs have been instituted internationally, with a semi-wild breeding colony in Turkey
Turkey
Turkey , known officially as the Republic of Turkey , is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia and in East Thrace in Southeastern Europe...

, as well as sites in Austria
Austria
Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...

, Spain
Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

, and northern Morocco
Morocco
Morocco , officially the Kingdom of Morocco , is a country located in North Africa. It has a population of more than 32 million and an area of 710,850 km², and also primarily administers the disputed region of the Western Sahara...

.

The reasons for the species' long-term decline are unclear, but hunting, loss of foraging habitat, and pesticide poisoning have been implicated in the rapid loss of colonies in recent decades.

Taxonomy


The ibises are gregarious, long-legged wading birds with long down-curved bills. Along with the spoonbill
Spoonbill
Spoonbills are a group of large, long-legged wading birds in the family Threskiornithidae, which also includes the Ibises.All have large, flat, spatulate bills and feed by wading through shallow water, sweeping the partly opened bill from side to side...

s they form one subfamily within the Threskiornithidae
Threskiornithidae
The family Threskiornithidae includes 34 species of large terrestrial and wading birds, falling into two subfamilies, the ibises and the spoonbills. It was formerly known as Plataleidae. The spoonbills and ibises were once thought to be related to other groups of long-legged wading birds in the...

. The Northern Bald Ibis' closest relative, and the only other member of the genus, is the Southern Bald Ibis
Southern Bald Ibis
The Southern Bald Ibis is a large bird found in open grassland or semi-desert in the mountains of southern Africa.This large, glossy, blue-black ibis has an unfeathered red face and head, and a long, decurved red bill. It breeds colonially on and amongst rocks and on cliffs, laying 2-3 eggs which...

, G. calvus, of southern Africa. The two Geronticus species differ from other ibises in that they have unfeathered faces and heads, breed on cliffs rather than in trees, and prefer arid habitats to the wetlands used by their relatives.

The Northern Bald Ibis was described and illustrated by Swiss naturalist Conrad Gessner
Conrad Gessner
Conrad Gessner was a Swiss naturalist and bibliographer. His five-volume Historiae animalium is considered the beginning of modern zoology, and the flowering plant genus Gesneria is named after him...

 in his Historiae animalium
Historiae animalium (Gesner)
Historiae animalium published at Zurich in 1551-58 and 1587, is an encyclopedic work of "an inventory of renaissance zoology" by Conrad Gesner, a doctor and professor at the Carolinum, the precursor of the University of Zurich...

in 1555, and given the binomial name
Binomial nomenclature
Binomial nomenclature is a formal system of naming species of living things by giving each a name composed of two parts, both of which use Latin grammatical forms, although they can be based on words from other languages...

 Upupa eremita by Carl Linnaeus in his 1758 Systema Naturae
Systema Naturae
The book was one of the major works of the Swedish botanist, zoologist and physician Carolus Linnaeus. The first edition was published in 1735...

. It was moved to its current genus by the German herpetologist Johann Georg Wagler
Johann Georg Wagler
Johann Georg Wagler was a German herpetologist.Wagler was assistant to Johann Baptist von Spix, and became Director of the Zoological Museum at the University of Munich after Spix's death in 1826...

 in 1832.

The species probably split into two distinct populations at least 400 years ago and, since then, the two populations have been diverging morphologically
Morphology (biology)
In biology, morphology is a branch of bioscience dealing with the study of the form and structure of organisms and their specific structural features....

, ecologically
Ecology
Ecology is the scientific study of the relations that living organisms have with respect to each other and their natural environment. Variables of interest to ecologists include the composition, distribution, amount , number, and changing states of organisms within and among ecosystems...

, and genetically; nevertheless, the Turkish and Moroccan populations of this ibis are not currently classed as separate subspecies. One consistent difference between the eastern and western birds is a single mutation in the cytochrome b
Cytochrome b
Cytochrome b/b6 is the main subunit of transmembrane cytochrome bc1 and b6f complexes. In addition, it commonly refers to a region of mtDNA used for population genetics and phylogenetics.- Function :...

 gene
Gene
A gene is a molecular unit of heredity of a living organism. It is a name given to some stretches of DNA and RNA that code for a type of protein or for an RNA chain that has a function in the organism. Living beings depend on genes, as they specify all proteins and functional RNA chains...

 of their mitochondrial DNA
Mitochondrial DNA
Mitochondrial DNA is the DNA located in organelles called mitochondria, structures within eukaryotic cells that convert the chemical energy from food into a form that cells can use, adenosine triphosphate...

.

Fossils of the Northern Bald Ibis have been found at a Holocene
Holocene
The Holocene is a geological epoch which began at the end of the Pleistocene and continues to the present. The Holocene is part of the Quaternary period. Its name comes from the Greek words and , meaning "entirely recent"...

 (c. 10,000 years ago) site in southern France, in middle Pleistocene
Pleistocene
The Pleistocene is the epoch from 2,588,000 to 11,700 years BP that spans the world's recent period of repeated glaciations. The name pleistocene is derived from the Greek and ....

 (c. 900,000 ago) strata in Sicily, and in Pliocene
Pliocene
The Pliocene Epoch is the period in the geologic timescale that extends from 5.332 million to 2.588 million years before present. It is the second and youngest epoch of the Neogene Period in the Cenozoic Era. The Pliocene follows the Miocene Epoch and is followed by the Pleistocene Epoch...

-Pleistocene boundary (c. 1.8 million years ago) deposits on the Mediterranean coast of Spain. What appears to be an ancestral form, Geronticus balcanicus, was found in the late Pliocene of Bulgaria, further illustrating the early widespread presence of this genus in Europe, and suggesting that Geronticus eremita may have originated in southeastern Europe or the Middle East.

The genus name, Geronticus, is derived from the Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

 , meaning old man and refers to the bald head of the aged. Eremita is Late Latin
Late Latin
Late Latin is the scholarly name for the written Latin of Late Antiquity. The English dictionary definition of Late Latin dates this period from the 3rd to the 6th centuries AD extending in Spain to the 7th. This somewhat ambiguously defined period fits between Classical Latin and Medieval Latin...

 for hermit, from the Greek , meaning desert, and refers to the arid habitats inhabited by this species. The alternative common name Waldrapp is German for forest crow, the equivalent of the Latin Corvo sylvatico of Gesner, adapted as Corvus sylvaticus by Linnaeus.

Description



The Northern Bald Ibis is a large, glossy black bird, 70–80 cm (28–31 in) long with a 125–135 cm (49–53 in) wingspan and an average weight of 1.0–1.3 kg (35–46 oz). The plumage is black, with bronze-green and violet iridescence, and there is a wispy ruff on the bird's hind neck. The face and head are dull red and unfeathered, and the long, curved bill and the legs are red. In flight, this bird has powerful, shallow, and flexible wing beats. It gives guttural hrump and high, hoarse hyoh calls at its breeding colonies, but is otherwise silent.

The sexes are similar in plumage, although males are generally larger than females, and, as with other ibises that breed in colonies, have longer bills
Beak
The beak, bill or rostrum is an external anatomical structure of birds which is used for eating and for grooming, manipulating objects, killing prey, fighting, probing for food, courtship and feeding young...

. The longer-billed males are more successful in attracting a mate. The downy chick has uniformly pale brown plumage, and the fledged juvenile resembles the adult except that it has a dark head, light grey legs, and a pale bill. The unfeathered areas of the young bird's head and neck gradually become red as it matures. Moroccan birds have a significantly longer bill than Turkish birds of the same sex.
Population Male bill length Female bill length
Morocco 141.1 mm (5.55 in) 133.5 mm (5.25 in)
Turkey 129.0 mm (5.08 in) 123.6 mm (4.87 in)


If the eastern and western populations are considered to be separable subspecies, it is unclear which should be considered to be the nominate (first-named) form, since the first description of this species was based on a now-extinct population from Switzerland which is of unknown race.

The Northern Bald Ibis is readily distinguished from its close relative, the Southern Bald Ibis of Southern Africa, by the southern species' whitish face. The Northern Bald can also be confused with the similarly dark-plumaged Glossy Ibis
Glossy Ibis
The Glossy Ibis is a wading bird in the ibis family Threskiornithidae.This is the most widespread ibis species, breeding in scattered sites in warm regions of Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Atlantic and Caribbean region of the Americas...

, which overlaps its range, but it is larger and stockier than that species. In flight, when the bill and face colouration may not be visible, the Bald Ibis' less rounded wings and shorter neck give it a different profile from Glossy Ibis, and its relatively short legs mean that its feet do not project beyond the tail, unlike those of the Glossy Ibis.

Habitat and range


Unlike other ibises, which nest in trees and feed in wetlands, the Northern Bald Ibis breeds on undisturbed cliff ledges, and forages for food in irregularly cultivated, grazed dry areas such as semi-arid steppe
Steppe
In physical geography, steppe is an ecoregion, in the montane grasslands and shrublands and temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands biomes, characterized by grassland plains without trees apart from those near rivers and lakes...

s, and fallow fields. The close proximity of adequate steppe feeding areas to breeding cliffs is an important habitat requirement.

The Northern Bald Ibis was once widespread across the Middle East, northern Africa, and southern Europe; it bred along the Danube
Danube
The Danube is a river in the Central Europe and the Europe's second longest river after the Volga. It is classified as an international waterway....

 and Rhone
Rhône
Rhone can refer to:* Rhone, one of the major rivers of Europe, running through Switzerland and France* Rhône Glacier, the source of the Rhone River and one of the primary contributors to Lake Geneva in the far eastern end of the canton of Valais in Switzerland...

 Rivers, and in the mountains of Spain, Italy, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland (Gessner's original description was of a Swiss bird). It used castle battlements as well as cliff ledges for nesting before vanishing from Europe at least three centuries ago. It is also extinct over most of its former range, and now almost the entirety of the wild breeding population of just over 500 birds is in Morocco, at Souss-Massa National Park
Souss-Massa National Park
The Souss-Massa National Park is a 33,800 hectare national park on the Atlantic coast of Morocco which was created in 1991. It lies between Agadir to the north and Sidi Ifni to the south and its centre is at 9o 40' West 30° 5' north...

, where there are three documented colonies, and near the mouth of the Oued Tamri
Oued Tamri
Oued Tamri is a river in western Morocco which discharges to the Atlantic Ocean near the village of Tamri. The surface flow becomes very low at the end of summer before the rainy season has commenced...

 (north of Agadir
Agadir
Agadir is a major city in southwest Morocco, capital of the Agadir province and the Sous-Massa-Draa economic region .-Etymology:...

), where there is a single colony containing almost half the Moroccan breeding population. There is some movement of birds between these two sites.


Religious traditions helped this species to survive in one Turkish colony long after the species had disappeared from Europe, since it was believed that the ibis migrated
Bird migration
Bird migration is the regular seasonal journey undertaken by many species of birds. Bird movements include those made in response to changes in food availability, habitat or weather. Sometimes, journeys are not termed "true migration" because they are irregular or in only one direction...

 each year to guide Hajj
Hajj
The Hajj is the pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. It is one of the largest pilgrimages in the world, and is the fifth pillar of Islam, a religious duty that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do so...

 pilgrims to Mecca
Mecca
Mecca is a city in the Hijaz and the capital of Makkah province in Saudi Arabia. The city is located inland from Jeddah in a narrow valley at a height of above sea level...

. The ibis was protected by its religious significance, and a festival was held annually to celebrate its return north. The Turkish ibis population was centred near the small town of Birecik
Birecik
Birecik , also formerly known as Bir and during the Crusades as Bile, is a town and district of Şanlıurfa Province of Turkey, on the River Euphrates....

 in the south east of the country, and during the first half of the twentieth century, the Birecik colony maintained a relatively stable population of about 500 breeding pairs, reaching an estimated total population of about 3,000 around 1930. By the 1970s, numbers had drastically declined and a captive breeding program was initiated in 1977 with one adult pair and nine chicks taken from the wild. This program largely failed to revert the decline; there were 400 birds in 1982, five pairs in 1986, and seven pairs in 1987. Only three birds returned from their wintering grounds in 1989, and just one in 1990. The returning birds died before they could reproduce, thus rendering the species extinct in the wild in Turkey as of 1992. Once the wild Turkish population became non-viable, the colony was maintained as a flock which was free-flying for most of the year but caged in autumn to prevent migration.

After the demise of the migratory Turkish colony, the Northern Bald Ibis was known to survive in the wild only at the Moroccan sites, although occasional sightings of birds in Yemen, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, and Israel during the 1980s and 1990s suggested that there was still a colony somewhere in the Middle East. Intensive field surveys in spring 2002, based on the knowledge of Bedouin
Bedouin
The Bedouin are a part of a predominantly desert-dwelling Arab ethnic group traditionally divided into tribes or clans, known in Arabic as ..-Etymology:...

 nomads and local hunters, revealed that the species had never become completely extinct on the Syrian desert steppes. Following systematic searches, 15 old nesting sites were found, one, near Palmyra
Palmyra
Palmyra was an ancient city in Syria. In the age of antiquity, it was an important city of central Syria, located in an oasis 215 km northeast of Damascus and 180 km southwest of the Euphrates at Deir ez-Zor. It had long been a vital caravan city for travellers crossing the Syrian desert...

, was still hosting an active breeding colony of seven individuals. Although the ibis had been declared extinct in Syria more than 70 years earlier, the bird appears to have been relatively common in the desert areas until 20 years ago, when a combination of overexploitation
Overexploitation
Overexploitation, also called overharvesting, refers to harvesting a renewable resource to the point of diminishing returns. Sustained overexploitation can lead to the destruction of the resource...

 of its range lands and increasing hunting pressures initiated a dramatic decline.

The Moroccan breeding birds are resident, dispersing along the coast after the nesting season. It has been suggested that coastal fog provides extra moisture for this population, and enables the ibises to remain year-round. In the rest of its former range, away from the Moroccan coastal locations, the Northern Bald Ibis migrated south for the winter, and formerly occurred as a vagrant to Spain, Iraq, Egypt, the Azores
Azores
The Archipelago of the Azores is composed of nine volcanic islands situated in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, and is located about west from Lisbon and about east from the east coast of North America. The islands, and their economic exclusion zone, form the Autonomous Region of the...

, and Cape Verde.

Satellite tagging of 13 Syrian birds in 2006 showed that the three adults in the group, plus a fourth untagged adult, wintered together from February to July in the highlands of Ethiopia, where the species had not been recorded for nearly 30 years. They travelled south on the eastern side of the Red Sea via Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and returned north through Sudan and Eritrea.

Breeding



The Northern Bald Ibis breeds in loosely spaced colonies, nesting on cliff ledges or amongst boulders on steep slopes, usually on the coast or near a river. Volunteer climbers have created extra ledge spaces in the Souss-Massa
Souss-Massa National Park
The Souss-Massa National Park is a 33,800 hectare national park on the Atlantic coast of Morocco which was created in 1991. It lies between Agadir to the north and Sidi Ifni to the south and its centre is at 9o 40' West 30° 5' north...

 colonies to ensure that breeding population is not limited by the availability of nest ledges, and artificial nest box
Nest box
A nest box, also spelled nestbox is a man-made box provided for animals to nest in. Nest boxes are most frequently utilized for wild and domesticated birds, in which case they are also called birdhouses, but some mammalian species may also use them. Birdhouses are the most common types of nest...

es are used in the managed colony at Birecik
Birecik
Birecik , also formerly known as Bir and during the Crusades as Bile, is a town and district of Şanlıurfa Province of Turkey, on the River Euphrates....

. In the past, the birds also nested in buildings.

This ibis starts breeding at 3–5 years of age, and pairs for life. The male chooses a nest site, cleans it, and then advertises for a female by waving his crest and giving low rumbling calls. Once the birds have paired, the bond is reinforced through bowing displays and mutual preening
Personal grooming
Personal grooming is the art of cleaning, grooming, and maintaining parts of the body. It is a species-typical behavior that is controlled by neural circuits in the brain.- In humans :...

. The nest is a loose construction of twigs lined with grass or straw. G. eremita normally lays 2–4 rough-surfaced eggs, which weigh an average of 50.16 g (1.8 oz), and are initially blue-white with brown spots, becoming brown during incubation
Avian incubation
Incubation refers to the process by which certain oviparous animals hatch their eggs, and to the development of the embryo within the egg. The most vital factor of incubation is the constant temperature required for its development over a specific period. Especially in domestic fowl, the act of...

. An egg in the collection of the British Museum
British Museum
The British Museum is a museum of human history and culture in London. Its collections, which number more than seven million objects, are amongst the largest and most comprehensive in the world and originate from all continents, illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its...

 was marked more thickly at the broad end, with "spots and very small blotches of yellowish brown and pale rufous". It was 0.93 in long and 0.68 in wide (2.37 × 1.73 cm). The clutch is incubated for 24–25 days to hatching, the chicks fledge
Fledge
Fledge is the stage in a young bird's life when the feathers and wing muscles are sufficiently developed for flight. It also describes the act of a chick's parents raising it to a fully grown state...

 in another 40–50 days, and the first flight takes place at about two months. Both parents incubate and feed the chicks.

The Northern Bald Ibis lives in captivity for an average of 20–25 years (oldest recorded male 37 years, oldest recorded female 30 years). The average age in the wild has been estimated as 10–15 years.

Feeding



This gregarious species commutes
Commuting
Commuting is regular travel between one's place of residence and place of work or full time study. It sometimes refers to any regular or often repeated traveling between locations when not work related.- History :...

 in flocks from the cliff breeding sites or winter roosts to its feeding areas, flying in a V-formation. The flocks may contain up to 100 birds in winter. During the breeding season, the ibises regularly forage up to 15 km (10 mi) from the colony, and, although steppe
Steppe
In physical geography, steppe is an ecoregion, in the montane grasslands and shrublands and temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands biomes, characterized by grassland plains without trees apart from those near rivers and lakes...

 not in current cultivation is preferred for feeding, they will also use fallow ground
Crop rotation
Crop rotation is the practice of growing a series of dissimilar types of crops in the same area in sequential seasons.Crop rotation confers various benefits to the soil. A traditional element of crop rotation is the replenishment of nitrogen through the use of green manure in sequence with cereals...

, and occasionally even actively cultivated fields.

The Northern Bald Ibis consumes a very wide variety of mainly animal food; faecal analysis of the Moroccan breeding population has shown that lizards and tenebrionid beetles
Darkling beetle
Darkling beetles are a family of beetles found worldwide, estimated at more than 20,000 species. Many of the beetles have black elytra, leading to their common name...

 predominate in the diet, although small mammals, ground-nesting birds, and invertebrates such as snails, scorpions, spiders, and caterpillars are also taken. Males will sometimes "scrounge" food from females. As the flock moves across the ground, the ibis uses its long bill to feel for food items in the loose, sandy soil. Since this bird hunts mainly by probing, a soft surface seems to be vital, and it is important that any vegetation is sparse, and not more than 15–20 cm (6–8 in) high.

Conservation status


Although the Northern Bald Ibis was long extinct in Europe, many colonies in Morocco and Algeria survived until the early twentieth century, when they began to decline more rapidly, the last colony in Algeria disappearing in the late 1980s. In Morocco there were about 38 colonies in 1940 and 15 in 1975, but the last migratory populations in the Atlas Mountains
Atlas Mountains
The Atlas Mountains is a mountain range across a northern stretch of Africa extending about through Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. The highest peak is Toubkal, with an elevation of in southwestern Morocco. The Atlas ranges separate the Mediterranean and Atlantic coastlines from the Sahara Desert...

 had vanished by 1989. The species is now officially critically endangered
Critically Endangered
Critically Endangered is the highest risk category assigned by the IUCN Red List for wild species. Critically Endangered means that a species' numbers have decreased, or will decrease, by 80% within three generations....

 according to the IUCN scale, with an estimated population in 2008 of around 500 in the wild and over 1,000 in captivity. The Northern Bald Ibis is one of the key species to which the draft Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA
AEWA
The Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds is the largest of its kind developed so far under the Bonn Convention. It was concluded on 16 June 1995 at The Hague, the Netherlands and entered into force on 1 November 1999 after the required number of at least fourteen...

) applies, and it has a detailed, internationally agreed conservation action plan under the agreement. As a species that is threatened with extinction, it is listed on Appendix 1 of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), which means that trade in wild-caught birds is illegal, and may be licensed only in exceptional circumstances.

The Northern Bald Ibis has declined for several centuries, at least partly as a consequence of unidentified natural causes. The more rapid decline in the past hundred years, with a loss of 98% of the population between 1900 and 2002, is the result of a combination of factors. These include significant human persecution, especially hunting, and also the loss of steppe and non-intensive agricultural areas (particularly in Morocco), pesticide poisoning, disturbance, and dam construction. The discovery in Jordan of three dead adults from the Turkish colony confirmed that the overuse of pesticides is still a cause of death on migration. These birds were tracked by satellite after leaving Birecik; they stopped off briefly at the Syrian colony, and were later found dead in the Jordanian desert. Although the corpses were close to electricity pylons, the cause of death was poison, probably laid by chicken farmers to kill rodents.

Wild populations


Monitoring of Moroccan wild population is guaranteed by BirdLife International
BirdLife International
BirdLife International is a global Partnership of conservation organisations that strives to conserve birds, their habitats and global biodiversity, working with people towards sustainability in the use of natural resources...

 partners, especially by RSPB and SEO/BirdLife in cooperation with Souss-Massa National Park
Souss-Massa National Park
The Souss-Massa National Park is a 33,800 hectare national park on the Atlantic coast of Morocco which was created in 1991. It lies between Agadir to the north and Sidi Ifni to the south and its centre is at 9o 40' West 30° 5' north...

 administration. For the first time in the species' recorded history, there is now evidence of population growth in the wild, and the population in Morocco increased to 100 breeding pairs in the decade prior to 2008. Simple site and species protection has facilitated this growth. Quantitative assessments of the importance of sites for breeding, roosting, and foraging have guided actions to prevent disturbance and the loss of key areas to mass tourism development. Wardening by members of the local community has reduced human intrusion and increased the perceived value of the birds. The provision of drinking water and the removal and deterrence of predators and competitors enhances breeding prospects, and monitoring has confirmed that steppe
Steppe
In physical geography, steppe is an ecoregion, in the montane grasslands and shrublands and temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands biomes, characterized by grassland plains without trees apart from those near rivers and lakes...

 and two-year fallows
Crop rotation
Crop rotation is the practice of growing a series of dissimilar types of crops in the same area in sequential seasons.Crop rotation confers various benefits to the soil. A traditional element of crop rotation is the replenishment of nitrogen through the use of green manure in sequence with cereals...

 are key feeding habitats.

Maintaining such non-intensive land uses in the future may present major management challenges, and the recovery in the Souss-Massa
Souss-Massa National Park
The Souss-Massa National Park is a 33,800 hectare national park on the Atlantic coast of Morocco which was created in 1991. It lies between Agadir to the north and Sidi Ifni to the south and its centre is at 9o 40' West 30° 5' north...

 region remains precarious because the population is concentrated in just a few places. However, it could provide opportunities for natural extension of the range to formerly occupied sites further north in Morocco.
The main cause of breeding failure at the Souss-Massa National Park is the loss of eggs to predators, especially the Common Raven
Common Raven
The Common Raven , also known as the Northern Raven, is a large, all-black passerine bird. Found across the northern hemisphere, it is the most widely distributed of all corvids...

 which nest monitoring has shown to have had a serious impact at one sub-colony. The effects of predators on adult birds have not been studied, but the very similar Southern Bald Ibis, Geronticus calvus, is hunted by large raptors
Bird of prey
Birds of prey are birds that hunt for food primarily on the wing, using their keen senses, especially vision. They are defined as birds that primarily hunt vertebrates, including other birds. Their talons and beaks tend to be relatively large, powerful and adapted for tearing and/or piercing flesh....

, particularly those that share its breeding cliffs. There is evidence of chick starvation in some years, but the main threats to breeding birds are human disturbance and the loss of feeding habitat. There was a dramatic mortality incident at the Moroccan colonies in May 1996, when 40 adults died or disappeared over a period of nine days. Although analyses have not identified the cause, an obscure virus, a toxin, or botulism
Botulism
Botulism also known as botulinus intoxication is a rare but serious paralytic illness caused by botulinum toxin which is metabolic waste produced under anaerobic conditions by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, and affecting a wide range of mammals, birds and fish...

 are thought to be the most likely causes of the deaths. Nevertheless, the population has continued increasing slowly.

The Syrian Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform has now put protection measures in place to protect the tiny breeding population in that country, and Yemen and Ethiopia, which provide migration stop-offs and wintering areas, have a good record for conservation. However, young birds do not winter nor return with the adults and their wintering grounds are still unknown. Although the wild Syrian population is very small, the discovery that semi-wild Turkish birds on a migration trial visited the Palmyra
Palmyra
Palmyra was an ancient city in Syria. In the age of antiquity, it was an important city of central Syria, located in an oasis 215 km northeast of Damascus and 180 km southwest of the Euphrates at Deir ez-Zor. It had long been a vital caravan city for travellers crossing the Syrian desert...

 colony has led to hopes that some migrants may join the Syrian breeding population and boost the numbers in that country.

An intensive community-based protection program in Palmyra
Palmyra
Palmyra was an ancient city in Syria. In the age of antiquity, it was an important city of central Syria, located in an oasis 215 km northeast of Damascus and 180 km southwest of the Euphrates at Deir ez-Zor. It had long been a vital caravan city for travellers crossing the Syrian desert...

 under an FAO/Italian Cooperation project during 2002–2004 recorded an average breeding performance that was higher than in Turkey and in Morocco. During period 2005–2010 the protection program, now under Birdlife Middle East management had a much lower effort and lack of constant external scientific and technical assistance to local authorities. This resulted in a very variable breeding performance; two fatal and predictable breeding failures occurred in 2005 and 2008. During 2004–2007, due to prior high breeding performance, four subadults returned to the colony and three recruited successfully, compensating the natural mortality of adults. The unsustainably high mortality of young ibises outside the breeding grounds (an estimated 85%) and the breeding failures in 2009 and 2010 (due to unknown causes) meant that the colony reached its lowest size ever in 2010, only one pair, and three adults. Extinction at this point seems unavoidable.

Turkey


With the loss of the genuinely wild Turkish population, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry's Directorate of Natural Preservation and National Parks established a new semi-wild colony at Birecik. This was heavily managed, with birds taken into captivity after the breeding season to prevent migration. The program was successful, with numbers at 91 as of July 2006. The intention is to allow the birds to migrate once the population reaches a stable 100 pairs, excluding young.

The birds are released in late January or early February to breed outside the cages on ledges and, mainly, in the nest boxes in the breeding station compound. The ibises are free flying and forage around the Birecik area in forest nurseries, agricultural fields, and along the Euphrates
Euphrates
The Euphrates is the longest and one of the most historically important rivers of Western Asia. Together with the Tigris, it is one of the two defining rivers of Mesopotamia...

, but supplementary food is also provided. Following the end of the breeding season, the birds are taken into cages in late July or early August to prevent migration. A trial migration using tagged birds confirmed the risks presented to travelling birds by pesticides.

Reintroductions


The guidelines for the conservation and reintroduction of the Northern Bald Ibis were established in 2003 at an International Advisory Group for Northern Bald Ibis (IAGNBI) conference in Innsbruck
Innsbruck
- Main sights :- Buildings :*Golden Roof*Kaiserliche Hofburg *Hofkirche with the cenotaph of Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor*Altes Landhaus...

 at the Alpenzoo, which maintains the European studbook
Breed registry
A breed registry, also known as a stud book or register, in animal husbandry and the hobby of animal fancy, is an official list of animals within a specific breed whose parents are known. Animals are usually registered by their breeders when they are still young...

 for the Northern Bald Ibis.

Decisions taken at the meeting included:
  • There should be no augmenting of the wild populations at Souss-Massa
    Souss-Massa National Park
    The Souss-Massa National Park is a 33,800 hectare national park on the Atlantic coast of Morocco which was created in 1991. It lies between Agadir to the north and Sidi Ifni to the south and its centre is at 9o 40' West 30° 5' north...

     or in Palmyra
    Palmyra
    Palmyra was an ancient city in Syria. In the age of antiquity, it was an important city of central Syria, located in an oasis 215 km northeast of Damascus and 180 km southwest of the Euphrates at Deir ez-Zor. It had long been a vital caravan city for travellers crossing the Syrian desert...

     using zoo-bred ibises.
  • There are two distinctive populations of Northern Bald Ibis, and the separate ranges of the eastern and western forms should be respected.
  • In order to prepare birds for release, groups of chicks should be hand-reared by human "parents".
  • Migration routes and stop-over points will have to be taught to young birds, since it is unlikely that they will discover this information by themselves.


A second conference in Spain in 2006 stressed the need to survey potential and former sites in northwest Africa and the Middle East for currently undetected colonies. The need to raise the standards of hygiene and husbandry in the Birecik
Birecik
Birecik , also formerly known as Bir and during the Crusades as Bile, is a town and district of Şanlıurfa Province of Turkey, on the River Euphrates....

 aviaries was reiterated, and the prevalence of skin problems in a number of zoos reinforced the view that no zoo birds should be used for any free-flying trials. In future captive breeding and releasing programmes, only birds of known origin should be used.

Zoo populations



There are 850 Northern Bald Ibises in European zoos and a further 250 in captivity in Japan and North America. The 49 European zoos keeping this species produce 80–100 young birds per year, and earlier attempts at releasing captive-bred birds included close to 150 birds between 1976-86 from an aviary at Birecik, 75 from Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv , officially Tel Aviv-Yafo , is the second most populous city in Israel, with a population of 404,400 on a land area of . The city is located on the Israeli Mediterranean coastline in west-central Israel. It is the largest and most populous city in the metropolitan area of Gush Dan, with...

 Zoo in 1983, and an unspecified number from a project in Almería
Almería
Almería is a city in Andalusia, Spain, on the Mediterranean Sea. It is the capital of the province of the same name.-Toponym:Tradition says that the name Almería stems from the Arabic المرية Al-Mariyya: "The Mirror", comparing it to "The Mirror of the Sea"...

, Spain, from 1991 to 1994; all these attempts were unsuccessful. All Northern Bald Ibises in zoos, other than those in Turkey, are of the western population, and were imported from Morocco. Three bloodlines exist; the earliest relates to importations to Zoo Basel
Zoo Basel
Zoo Basel is a non-profit zoo located within the city of Basel, Switzerland. Its official name is Zoologischer Garten Basel — or in English: Basel Zoological Garden. Basel residents, however, call their zoo affectionately Zolli...

, Switzerland in the 1950s and 1960s, the next is the descendants of birds taken in the 1970s to stock Rabat
Rabat
Rabat , is the capital and third largest city of the Kingdom of Morocco with a population of approximately 650,000...

 Zoo, and the last captured wild birds were those taken to the Naturzoo, Rheine
Rheine
Rheine is a city in the district of Steinfurt in Westphalia, Germany. It is the largest city in the district and the location of Rheine Air Base.-Geography:Rheine is located on the river Ems, approx. north of Münster, approx...

, in 1976 and 1978. Captive birds have a high incidence of skin problems, and 40% of those birds that had to be put down suffered from chronic ulcerative dermatitis
Dermatitis
-Etymology:Dermatitis derives from Greek derma "skin" + -itis "inflammation" and genetic disorder.-Terminology:There are several different types of dermatitis. The different kinds usually have in common an allergic reaction to specific allergens. The term may describe eczema, which is also called...

, characterised by feather loss, rawness, and ulceration on the back, neck, and the undersides of the wings. The cause of this disease is unknown. Other major disease problems reported in zoo collections have been avian tuberculosis
Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis, MTB, or TB is a common, and in many cases lethal, infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria, usually Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Tuberculosis usually attacks the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body...

, gastric foreign bodies, bone disease, and heart problems. An outbreak of West Nile virus
West Nile virus
West Nile virus is a virus of the family Flaviviridae. Part of the Japanese encephalitis antigenic complex of viruses, it is found in both tropical and temperate regions. It mainly infects birds, but is known to infect humans, horses, dogs, cats, bats, chipmunks, skunks, squirrels, domestic...

 in Bronx Park
Bronx Park
Bronx Park, laid out along the Bronx River in the Bronx, New York, is the home of the New York Botanical Garden and the Bronx Zoo. Bicycle paths go northwest, north and east, along Mosholu Parkway, Bronx River Parkway and Pelham Parkway respectively...

, New York, involved Northern Bald Ibises amongst many other species of birds and mammals.

Europe


In 1504, a decree by Archbishop Leonhard
Leonhard von Keutschach
Leonhard von Keutschach was Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg from 1495 until his death, the last to rule in the feudal style.- Biography :...

 of Salzburg
Salzburg
-Population development:In 1935, the population significantly increased when Salzburg absorbed adjacent municipalities. After World War II, numerous refugees found a new home in the city. New residential space was created for American soldiers of the postwar Occupation, and could be used for...

 made the Northern Bald Ibis one of the world's earliest officially protected species. Despite the decree, it died out in Austria as elsewhere in Europe. There are now two ibis reintroduction projects in the country, at Grünau and Waldrapp. A research station at Grünau
Grünau im Almtal
Grünau im Almtal is a village in the Austrian state of Upper Austria. The village had a population of 2,115 as of 2002.Grünau is surrounded by mountains with a central river that runs throughout the valley....

 has a breeding colony managed, like the Turkish population, as a free-flying flock which is caged at migration time. The aim here is to investigate flock interactions and hormonal status, behavioural and ecological aspects of natural foraging, and the establishment of traditions via social learning.

The Scharnstein Project is an attempt to establish a migratory Waldrapp colony by using ultralight planes
Ultralight aviation
The term "ultralight aviation" refers to light-weight, 1- or 2-person airplanes., also called microlight aircraft in the UK, India and New Zealand...

 to teach a migration route. The scheme builds on the Grünau research by developing a method to control and guide the autumn migration of a founder population, which then can pass this migration tradition to subsequent generations. In May 2002, 11 birds from the Vienna Zoo and the Grünau colony were trained to follow two microlight planes, and in 2003, a first attempt was made to lead a group of birds from Scharnstein
Scharnstein
Scharnstein is a municipality in the district of Gmunden in Upper Austria, Austria....

 to southern Tuscany. Due to adverse weather and technical problems, the birds had to be transported by road over a considerable part of the distance. The subsequent releases were more successful, with birds wintering in Tuscany, and, from 2005, returning to northern Austria. In 2008, a female ibis named Aurelia flew 930 km (580 mi) back to Austria for her fourth return to the breeding site. The hazards of the journey are shown by the loss of her two offspring and her mate while on the southern journey in the autumn of 2007.

Proyecto Eremita is a Spanish reintroduction involving the release of nearly 30 birds in the Ministry of Defence training ground in La Janda
La Janda
La Janda is a comarca in the province of Cádiz, southern Spain.La Janda is composed of the following municipalities:*Alcalá de los Gazules*Barbate*Benalup-Casas Viejas*Conil de la Frontera*Medina Sidonia...

 district, Barbate
Barbate
- External links :** - Sistema de Información Multiterritorial de Andalucía*...

 (Cádiz Province
Cádiz (province)
Cádiz is a province of southern Spain, in the southwestern part of the autonomous community of Andalusia, the southernmost part of continental Western Europe....

). It had its first success in 2008, when a pair laid two eggs. This is probably the first attempt to breed in the wild in Spain for 500 years as the last definite reference to the Northern Bald Ibis breeding in Spain is from a 15th-century falconry book. This effort has been undertaken by the Andalusia
Andalusia
Andalusia is the most populous and the second largest in area of the autonomous communities of Spain. The Andalusian autonomous community is officially recognised as a nationality of Spain. The territory is divided into eight provinces: Huelva, Seville, Cádiz, Córdoba, Málaga, Jaén, Granada and...

n government’s Environmental Ministry, the Spanish Ministry of Defence, and the Jerez
Jerez de la Frontera
Jerez de la Frontera is a municipality in the province of Cádiz in the autonomous community of Andalusia, in southwestern Spain, situated midway between the sea and the mountains. , the city, the largest in the province, had 208,896 inhabitants; it is the fifth largest in Andalusia...

 Zoo and Botanical Gardens, with the assistance of the Doñana National Park
Doñana National Park
-Conservation:In 1989 the surroundings of the national park were given more protection when a buffer zone was declared a natural park under the management of the regional government. The two parks, national and natural, have since been classified as a single natural landscape.In 1994 UNESCO...

 and volunteers from the Cádiz Natural History Society. Previously, two birds left the area in 2005 and 14 in 2006, but nothing is known of their whereabouts other than that a ringed bird from Spain was seen in the Middle Atlas
Middle Atlas
The Middle Atlas is part of the Atlas mountain range lying in Morocco, a mountainous country with more than 100,000 km² or 15% of its landmass rising above 2,000 metres. The Middle Atlas is the northernmost of three Atlas Mountains chains that define a large plateaued basin extending eastward...

, Morocco in 2005.

Northern Morocco



There is a planned reintroduction of the ibis at Ain Tijja-Mezguitem
Mezguitem
Mezguitem is a Moroccan village located 60 km northeast of Taza in Rif. It is situated in the region of Taza-Al Hoceima-Taounate in Taza Province.Mezguitem is regionally famous for the its weekly market held every Wednesday.-External links:* * *...

 in the north-east of Morocco
Morocco
Morocco , officially the Kingdom of Morocco , is a country located in North Africa. It has a population of more than 32 million and an area of 710,850 km², and also primarily administers the disputed region of the Western Sahara...

. Since the wild populations further south remain vulnerable, and the porous sandstone of their breeding ledges is exposed to erosion, the intention is to establish a non-migratory population (stocked from German, Swiss, and Austrian zoos) in an area where this species was know to have bred up to about 1980. The station in the Rif
Rif
The Rif or Riff is a mainly mountainous region of northern Morocco, with some fertile plains, stretching from Cape Spartel and Tangier in the west to Ras Kebdana and the Melwiyya River in the east, and from the Mediterranean Sea in the north to the river of Wergha in the south.It is part of the...

 mountains was built in 2000, and stocked with the first group of zoo-bred birds. A second importation of zoo-bred birds and the construction of an information centre took place in 2004. Six pairs bred in 2006 subsequent to a change in the birds' diet, and six offspring from five nests were successfully reared. In 2007 there were 19 birds (13 adults and six juveniles) in the aviary.

The rock walls of the mountains have many potential breeding ledges, and an artificial lake provides water to the birds and to the local human population. Steppe pasture which is not exposed to herbicides or pesticides gives good foraging. Once the population reaches around 40 birds, a release will be initiated, subject to international agreement. The reintroduction site is 760 km (475 mi) from Agadir on the other side of the Atlas Mountains, so accidental contamination of the wild colonies is unlikely.

In culture


According to local legend in the Birecik area, the Northern Bald Ibis was one of the first birds that Noah
Noah
Noah was, according to the Hebrew Bible, the tenth and last of the antediluvian Patriarchs. The biblical story of Noah is contained in chapters 6–9 of the book of Genesis, where he saves his family and representatives of all animals from the flood by constructing an ark...

 released from the Ark
Noah's Ark
Noah's Ark is a vessel appearing in the Book of Genesis and the Quran . These narratives describe the construction of the ark by Noah at God's command to save himself, his family, and the world's animals from the worldwide deluge of the Great Flood.In the narrative of the ark, God sees the...

 as a symbol of fertility, and a lingering religious sentiment in Turkey helped the colonies there to survive long after the demise of the species in Europe, as described above.

This ibis was revered as a holy bird and a symbol of brilliance and splendour in Ancient Egypt, where, together with the Sacred Ibis
Sacred Ibis
The African Sacred Ibis is a species of ibis.-Description:An adult individual is 68 cm long with all-white body plumage apart from dark plumes on the rump. The bald head and neck, thick curved bill and legs are black. The white wings show a black rear border in flight...

, it was regarded as a reincarnation of Thoth
Thoth
Thoth was considered one of the more important deities of the Egyptian pantheon. In art, he was often depicted as a man with the head of an ibis or a baboon, animals sacred to him. His feminine counterpart was Seshat...

, scribe of the gods, who was usually depicted with a man's body and the head of an ibis. The Old Egyptian
Old Egyptian
Old Egyptian is the stage of the Egyptian language spoken from 2600 BC to 2000 BC during the Old Kingdom and First Intermediate Period. The Pyramid Texts are the largest body of literature written in this phase of the language. Tomb walls of elite Egyptians from this period bear autobiographical...

 word akh, "to be resplendent, to shine", was denoted in hieroglyphs
Egyptian hieroglyphs
Egyptian hieroglyphs were a formal writing system used by the ancient Egyptians that combined logographic and alphabetic elements. Egyptians used cursive hieroglyphs for religious literature on papyrus and wood...

 by a Bald Ibis, presumably as a reference to its glossy plumage. In a more abstract sense, akh stood for excellence, glory, honour, and virtue. It has also been used to signify the soul
Egyptian soul
The ancient Egyptians believed that a human soul was made up of five parts: the Ren, the Ba, the Ka, the Sheut, and the Ib. In addition to these components of the soul there was the human body...

 or spirit, one of five elements constituting personality.
Herodotus
Herodotus
Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Caria and lived in the 5th century BC . He has been called the "Father of History", and was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a...

 wrote of the man-eating Stymphalian birds
Stymphalian birds
In Greek mythology, the Stymphalian birds were man-eating birds with beaks of bronze and sharp metallic feathers they could launch at their victims, and were sacred to Ares, the god of war. Furthermore, their dung was highly toxic...

, which had wings of brass and sharp metallic feathers they could fire at their victims. Ridding Lake Stymphalia
Lake Stymphalia
Lake Stymphalia is located in the north-eastern part of the Peloponnese, in the Corinthia prefecture. It is a Wetlands area, a popular farming area. Usually this area around the lake is fairly dry underfoot. In certain weather conditions thousands of small green frogs hide in the damp grass from...

 in Arcadia
Arcadia
Arcadia is one of the regional units of Greece. It is part of the administrative region of Peloponnese. It is situated in the central and eastern part of the Peloponnese peninsula. It takes its name from the mythological character Arcas. In Greek mythology, it was the home of the god Pan...

 of these creatures was one of the twelve labours of Heracles. These mythical birds are sometimes considered to be based on the Northern Bald Ibis, but since they were described as marsh birds, and usually depicted without crests, the legendary species is more likely to be derived from the Sacred Ibis. Some depictions, such as the 6th century BC Athenian black-figure amphora in the British Museum
British Museum
The British Museum is a museum of human history and culture in London. Its collections, which number more than seven million objects, are amongst the largest and most comprehensive in the world and originate from all continents, illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its...

, clearly show the black head and white body of the latter species. After the Bald Ibis became extinct in Central Europe, some later writers thought that Gesner's description was itself one of several in his book depicting mythical creatures.

Several countries have produced postage stamps which depict the Northern Bald Ibis. They include Algeria, Morocco, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, and Yemen, which are breeding or migration locations; Austria, which is seeking to reintroduce the bird; and Jersey
Jersey
Jersey, officially the Bailiwick of Jersey is a British Crown Dependency off the coast of Normandy, France. As well as the island of Jersey itself, the bailiwick includes two groups of small islands that are no longer permanently inhabited, the Minquiers and Écréhous, and the Pierres de Lecq and...

, which has a small captive population.

External links