Geronticus calvus - The Southern Bald Ibis

While there are many ibises throughout South Africa (the hadeda being the most common of these), the southern bald ibis is significantly less common, found primarily in the mountains of the north-east region of this country. It is also known as the bare-headed ibis and the wild turkey.

Did you know? The species is listed as Vulnerable because its small population is believed to be declining due to habitat loss and degradation.

The southern bald ibis is characterised by its glossy black feathers that have a slight blue sheen to them, giving it a look of drama and elegance. The head is, as its name implies, bare of feathers, and is topped with a vibrant red fleshy crown. The skin on the neck and head is wrinkled. The feathers on its wings and shoulders are iridescent green, with bronze and purple highlights that make it quite exquisite once examined more closely. The bill and legs are also red.

The bill is long and curves downwards, leaving little wonder as to why this bird shares its family with spoonbills. The ruff around the neck is soft and fluffy, with bold blue-green shimmers. The juveniles are greyer and have not yet developed the bright, glossy colours for which this bird is admired.


Range mass: 1 – 1.3kg
Range length: 70 – 80cm
Range wingspan: 125 – 135cm.


The southern bald ibis can be found in semi-desert areas and mountainous regions that have short grasses and high altitudes. Since it is a scavenger and a hunter, these are the areas in which its prey is most abundantly found. It also tends to prefer areas that have recently been burnt or mowed, as well as fields and pastures that are heavily grazed and cultivated, since its meals are easier to come by under these conditions.


This bird is found in north-east South Africa, as well as in the kingdoms of Lesotho and Swaziland. It is endemic to the region between Limpopo, through Mpumalanga, and to the eastern part of the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal. See this ibis at the Golden Gate National Park in the Free State, the Ntendeka Wilderness Area, the Vryheid Hill Nature Reserve (about three hours from Richard’s Bay), and the Ntsikeni Wildlife Reserve in the magnificent Drakensberg.


The southern bald ibis is both a hunter and a scavenger, pecking at the ground and eating just about any grasshoppers, worms, beetles, snails and frogs that it can find. It will also dine on birds and mammals that have already died.


These ibises feed and roost in large flocks. Their nests are built on flat ground or on cliffs and in trees, where it will roost with up to 50 or more other individuals. It is a gregarious bird that hunts with up to 100 other birds of its type.


It has a high-pitched, coarse sounding bark when it is within a breeding colony. On its own, however, it is generally silent.


Once the southern bald ibis finds its partner, it forms a lifelong pair and remains monogamous. The female birds build the nest, while the male collects and delivers the materials (usually twigs and branches along with some softer leaves and other items to line it) to her.

She will lay between one and three oval eggs between July and January. The male and female both incubate these for about a month.

Once the chicks are born, both of the parents will feed them by means of regurgitation, which ensures that they are fed and hydrated from the safety of their nest. The chicks are ready to test their flying skills at about 55 days old. Thereafter, it takes only five days or so for them to become completely independent of the nest. Still, they will depend on the food that their parents bring them for another two months.


The eggs are incubated for between 27 and 31 days.

Life Expectancy

The southern bald ibis is likely to live for between 10 and 15 years in the wild and for up to 30 years in captivity.


Sadly, the southern bald ibis has long been hunted by people for their meat and feathers. It is entirely dependent on the land on which farmers are now grazing and developing for cultivation, which has also resulted in a sharp decline in their numbers as their food sources dry up. This has led to their being classified as a Vulnerable Species by the IUCN (the International Union for the Conservation of Nature). Worldwide, they are under threat due to acid rain, pollution and a massive shortage of natural habitat. Their eggs are also vulnerable to birds of prey and snakes.


Arkive; Biodiversity Explorer; Handbook of the Birds of the World; Beauty of Birds

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Where to see Southern Bald Ibis in their natural habitat?

Want to see Southern Bald Ibis in their natural habitat? In South Africa the Southern Bald Ibis can be seen in many game and nature reserves including...

Conservation Status
Southern Bald Ibis
Kruger Park's Big 6 Birds
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