African Sacred Ibis

The African sacred ibis tends to nest in large colonies of other waders (like herons)

South Africa BirdlifeThe African Sacred Ibis {Threskiornis aethiopicus}

The vivid black-and-white markings of the African sacred ibis certainly ensure that this bird stands in stark contrast to the greens, browns and blues of the South African landscapes. They have the same silhouette as their hadeda relatives, but are undoubtedly set apart by their plumage.

The sacred ibis’ body is almost completely white, with black feathers on its rump. The wings are edged with a black outline, which is only really visible when the birds extend their wings in flight. These wings also have some bare areas, in which the pink skin shows, both on the top and on the bottom. The neck and head are bald and black, as are the legs and feet. A long curved beak gives the bird a dramatic appearance. Young birds have a smaller beak and their white plumage still looks a little dirty, in comparison with the adults. In addition, they retain some feathers on their necks.

Males tend to be slightly larger than females. When breeding season comes around, the males develop a blue iridescence on their shoulders and the pink exposed skin on the wings becomes a brighter shade of red. The black wing tips also extend their hue further in, and the black skin on the bald areas begins to shine. Their legs even take on a red tint.

Quick Facts


Range mass: 1.3 – 1.5kg
Range length: 68 – 75cm
Range wingspan: 112 – 120cm.


The African sacred ibis favours marshes and shorelines, where it can wade peacefully in the water and mud in search of a meal. As urbanisation and development continue, these birds have also been known to visit rubbish dumps and farming areas.


This African sacred ibis can be found throughout sub-Saharan Africa, as well as in parts of Iraq. It was once common in Egypt too, but is now extinct there. In fact, it was honoured and worshipped as a symbol of pagan god Thoth.


The sacred ibis is a versatile diner, and will eat the insects, reptiles, little birds, fish and frogs that are available to it in its given habitat. Because it eats insects and insect larvae, the sacred ibis has been a useful visitor to the farmers, who benefit by ridding their crops of these bugs. Sadly, the insecticides that are used on the crops are often deadly to the birds as well.


The African sacred ibis tends to nest in large colonies of other waders (like herons). The females use their array of sounds to attract a mate during the mating season and while in the actual act of mating, and individuals use some of the sounds in their repertoire when on their breeding grounds.

When foraging for food, these birds may be found in groups of between two and 20 individuals. Of course, there have been unusual circumstances in which hundreds of birds have been found wading and hunting together.


This bird uses vocalisations that are varied. There are croaking barks that are used in flight, as well as squeaks and more melodic sounds. Unlike hadedas, the sacred ibis is a rather quiet bird.


The female ibis builds a fairly large nest in a tree using the sticks, leaves and grasses that the male brings to her. Breeding colonies can number between 50 and 2 000 pairs of birds. The female will lay between two and five dull-white eggs, after which she and the male will take turns to incubate them. While one protects the eggs, the other is looking for food.

The little chicks are fed and kept warm by both of the parents until they fledge, which is when they are about 39 to 45 days old.

The African sacred ibis reaches sexual maturity at about four or five years of age. Breeding pairs stick together for only one mating season.


28 days.

Life Expectancy

Estimated at 20 years.


The sacred ibis enjoys excellent population numbers and is not facing significant threats. However, it is negatively affected by urbanisation, pollution, pesticides and hunting.


ARKive; BirdLife International; Seaworld; Biodiversity Explorer.


African Sacred Ibis
Conservation Status

  • Least concern

Did you know?

Introduced populations of the African sacred ibis in Europe are thought to have been established after escaping from zoos.

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