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Astounding Island Nature: A Waterbird with a Divine History

February 16, 2015

Have you ever seen an ibis? These magnificent creatures are tropical water birds with distinctive curved beaks. Their favorite hunting grounds are muddy areas where unsuspecting crustaceans or other tasty morsels make their homes. I've also seen flocks of ibises probing grass lawns for a bite of lunch.

(An ibis wading. Photo by Umberto Nicoletti, Flickr.)

 

There are 28 species of ibises; these remarkable birds can be found from Madagascar to Australia to Venezuela. As you'll notice in the photo below, in certain species their young have brownish, grey feathers and look a little drab; once they reach adulthood, they develop beautiful plumage.

(A juvenile and an adult. Photo by Heather Paul, Flickr.)

 

The ibises we Island Runaways have seen close to home in Florida are American white ibises. Their range includes the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, the mid-Atlantic and southern Atlantic U.S. coasts, as well as Mexico and Central America. Outside of their breeding season, however, American white ibises are also known to fly south to the Caribbean islands.

 

I have to admit that although I love the white ibis, I am also dying to see the scarlet ibis, found largely along the northern coast of South America. In Trinidad, you can spot flocks of these vibrant birds in the Caroni Swamp, particularly as they return in a blaze of glory in early evening. One of my biggest regrets about my all-too-brief visit to Trinidad? Zickie and I did not have time to take a tour of the Caroni Bird Sanctuary around sunset.

(The gorgeous scarlet ibis. Photo by Fernando Flores, Flickr.)

 

Even the ancients believed the ibis to be a special creature. The ancient Egyptians considered the ibis sacred, and associated the bird with their god Thoth. In fact, in some sculptures, Thoth is portrayed as a man with an ibis head. Sadly, ibises were also sacrified by the Egyptians and then often mummified. Archeologists have discovered mummified ibises dating back thousands of years.

 

On a less morbid note, the American white ibis is also a symbol for an American institution -- and fortunately, none are sacrified here in any religious rituals. I'm talking about the University of Miami, of course, where Sebastian the Ibis has been a much-beloved mascot for decades. He makes appearances at games to rile up the fans. (Sebastian even has his own Facebook page!) And if you visit the UM campus, you'll inevitably see flocks of ibises nonchalantly strolling through its lush, green grounds.

(American white ibis. Photo by Heather Paul, Flickr.)

 

With their red beaks and legs and pure white plumage, ibises truly are one of nature's astoundingly beautiful creatures. If you haven't seen one first-hand, I'm crossing my fingers that you will in the near future.

 

I hope you've enjoyed this short look at the ibis. Our tropical reef series had such a positive response, that Zickie and I though we'd focus on some of the birds you find in the islands. If you'd like to suggest a certain type of feathered friend for an upcoming piece, let us know on Facebook, or write us a note through our Guest Island Experts page. Thanks!

 

 

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