Southern Bald Ibis Fact File
The southern bald ibis is known from the south of Africa where they can be found in South Africa, Lesotho and Eswatini.
Their name is drawn from the bald head which lacks any feathers and is colored reddish giving them a bold appearance. Across the rest of their body they have glossy, black feathers.
The nest of the southern bald ibis is a platform of branches arranged on a cliffside or energy pylon.
With a declining population estimated at just 6,500-8,000 birds the southern bald ibis remains threatened by habitat loss, pesticide use removing prey and hunting for food.
Read on to learn more about these brilliant birds.
The southern bald ibis is known for the head which is bare of all feathers. It is colored reddish across the crown with a white face. Across the rest of the body they are covered by glossy black feathers with purple patches on the shoulder.
On their face the skin is wrinkled. Their reddish face allows them to be distinguished from the related Northern bald ibis.
Protruding from the head is a long, thin bill colored a reddish pink. The legs and feet share the same coloration.
An average southern bald ibis measures 80cm (31in) long with a weight of 1-1.3kg (35-46oz) with a wingspan of 125-135cm (49-53in) across. Males are typically larger than females and have a longer bill.
The southern bald ibis is a carnivore feeding on a range of invertebrates and small animals such as frogs, other birds and small mammals. It is rare but they do feed on carrion.
Much of their feeding takes place in grass which has been grazed by livestock to make it shorter. They will visit areas of grassland which has recently been on fire to feed on insects and other small animals seeking to escape the fire ground.
Their long bill helps them to probe for food in the soil.
Southern Africa is the native home of the southern bald ibis. Here they can be found in Eswatini, Lesotho and South Africa.
They make their home in grasslands which have no trees and short grass among which they can feed. Areas of wooded and arid country may also be inhabited. They will visit areas which were recently burnt to forage.
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These birds are considered monogamous and will rarely breed outside of their pair. Breeding occurs in colonies with up to 70 other pairs. Around 100 colonies currently exist but the bulk of the breeding occurs at a quarter of these.
Egg laying tends to take place from July to January. This coincides with a period of food availability.
Their nest is built on a cliff naturally. Some may be built on man-made structures such as power line pylons. The nest is a platform formed out of sticks and lined with fine materials. Females complete the nest building with the male bringing the material for this.
In to their nest the female will lay 1-5 eggs which are colored bluish-white with dark markings across them. Both parents will work to incubate the eggs for between 27 and 31 days.
Parents will regurgitate food to feed their chicks.
Chicks fledge and leave the cliffside at eight weeks old. Their survival is primarily linked to the levels of rainfall at the time of fledging.
Juveniles initially lack the red coloration of the adults being duller overall.
Sexual maturity is reached between 3 and 5 years old.
These birds live in colonies with up to 70 other pairs. When hunting they will travel as a group including up to 100 individuals.
Predators and Threats
Natural predators of these birds include birds of prey such as buzzards, owls and crows which primarily hunt juveniles.
The southern bald ibis population was estimated to include 6,500-8,000 birds but this is currently declining.
They are threatened by habitat loss and degradation. Climate change is an emerging threat to this species. Humans also interfere with their breeding colonies. The use of pesticides on insects is reducing their available prey. They are hunted for food.
These animals may collide with power lines and this is made worse as they will use the pylons as a nest site on occasion.
This bird may be referred to as the "old man" a reference to its bald head and the wrinkled skin on the face.
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Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Steve Snodgrass from Shreveport, USA, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
BirdLife International. 2016. Geronticus calvus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22697496A93617026. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T22697496A93617026.en. Downloaded on 05 September 2021.
Biodiversityexplorer.info. 2021. Geronticus calvus (Southern bald ibis). [online] Available at: <http://www.biodiversityexplorer.info/birds/threskiornithidae/geronticus_calvus.htm> [Accessed 5 September 2021].
Ebird.org. 2021. Southern Bald Ibis – eBird. [online] Available at: <https://ebird.org/species/balibi1> [Accessed 5 September 2021].
Armistead, G., 2021. Bald Ibis – Rockjumper Birding Tours. [online] Rockjumper Birding Tours. Available at: <https://www.rockjumperbirding.com/bald-ibis-by-adam-riley/> [Accessed 5 September 2021].
Animals, O., 2021. Southern Bald Ibis – National Zoological Garden, Pretoria. [online] Pretoriazoo.org. Available at: <https://www.pretoriazoo.org/animals/southern-bald-ibis/> [Accessed 5 September 2021].
Beautyofbirds.com. 2021. Southern Bald Ibises | Beauty of Birds. [online] Available at: <https://www.beautyofbirds.com/southernbaldibises.html> [Accessed 5 September 2021].