Northern bald ibis

Common Name: Northern bald ibis

Scientific Name: Geronticus eremita

The Northern bald ibis was worshipped by the ancient Egyptians, and it can be seen in hieroglyphics from 5000 years ago!

This species will defend its nest if an intruder comes near. They do this by half raising their body, ruffling their feathers, partially lowering their wings and stretching out their necks.  

Fast Facts

  • Status

    Endangered

  • Size

    Height: 70–80 cm; wingspan: 125–135 cm

  • Weight

    1350-1550 g

  • Gestation

    24-28 days

  • Young

    2-4 eggs are usually laid

  • Life span

    About 25 years

Northern Bald Ibis 2

In the wild

Northern bald ibis eat a wide variety of foods, especially grasshoppers, locusts, mole-crickets, crickets, beetles and small reptiles. They will also eat most other invertebrates and small vertebrates they can find, including scorpions, snails, worms, frogs and fish.  In addition, they occasionally feed on small mammals, nestling birds and vegetation including berries, young shoots and aquatic plants. Northern bald ibis tend to gather in flocks of 20 to 30 birds when feeding. They seek food by using their long, curved beaks to peck at the ground and to poke under stones and into tufts of vegetation and soft earth.

This species used to be found throughout North Africa, into the Middle East and in parts of southern Europe, but now there are only two populations, one in Morocco and one in Turkey and Syria. The population in Syria migrates south, over-wintering in Ethiopia. Northern bald ibis live in a variety of habitats including arid and semi-arid areas with cliffs and steep slopes, agricultural fields and mountain meadows.

Northern bald ibis usually nest in colonies of between 3 and 40 pairs. They nest in a range of habitats, including cliffs and next to rivers and the coast. They occasionally nest on top of old buildings such as castles, walls and towers. This species builds nests out of branches and the males collect grass, straw, wool, rags and other rubbish which the female then uses to line the nest. They usually lay between 2 and 4 eggs, though clutches of between 1 and 7 are known. The eggs are a bluish-white colour with small brown spots.  The chicks fledge at between 43 and 47 days of age, but the parents look after the young long after this, generally until the next breeding season. Adult birds don’t usually start to breed until they are 6 years old.

The eggs of Northern bald ibis are known to be predated upon by gulls and ravens. A number of bird species prey on chicks, including Pharaoh eagle owls, brown-necked ravens and possibly Egyptian vultures.

This species has suffered a large decline in numbers, mainly due to hunting, as well as a reduction in the amount of food available to them due to overgrazing and firewood collection. In Turkey, the main threat in the past was due to disturbance by people and the intensive use of pesticides which killed many birds and reduced their breeding success. The numbers of Northern bald ibis have increased in recent years thanks to conservation efforts which have included the formation of an international advisory group to coordinate conservation work, captive breeding programmes and the release of captive birds.  This work has led to the species now being listed as Endangered rather than Critically Endangered on the IUCN Redlist. These birds are listed on CITES Appendix I, which means that trade in these birds or any of their parts is illegal.

Meet Marwell's Northern bald ibis

Meet Marwell's Northern bald ibis

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