Sunday Species Spotlight: Scarlet Ibis

Updated: Oct 30, 2019

Every week we highlight and explore a new species in our "Sunday Species Spotlight." We spotlight birds from exotic locations, birds with unique traits, incredible rarities, and some species that can be found in your backyard!

Scarlet Ibis (Eudocimus ruber)

The Scarlet Ibis is the only wading bird in the world to have complete red coloration. Males and females both have the vibrant red plumage. The primary feathers have a small amount of black on them, usually only visible in flight. Juvenile plumage has a mix of white, greys, and browns. Adults average between 22-25" tall, with a 21" wingspan. There is some sexual dimorphism exhibited, as males are slightly larger, and have longer bills, than females.

These birds are in the family Threskiornithidae, which includes 34 species of Ibis and Spoonbills. It is very closely related to the White Ibis, and White Ibis x Scarlet Ibis hybrids have frequently been observed both in captivity and in the wild (a majority have been seen in Colombia and Venezuela). Some speculate that the two should be classified as different subspecies of American Ibis, rather than separately listed species.

Native Scarlet Ibis colonies can be found throughout South America and the Caribbean islands, while the largest populations are found in Venezuela and Columbia. Vagrants have been observed in other areas such as Cuba, Jamaica, and the United States. Though, almost all of the recent US sightings have been escapees, released captive birds, or hybrids produced as a result of planted Scarlet Ibis eggs in White Ibis nests in 1962.

Flocks will seek out wetland habitats, and survive primarily on shrimp and beetles. They also eat various other crustaceans and insects. The birds bright red pigmentation is due to their diet of red and pink-colored shellfish, with a similar diet behind the pink coloration of flamingos. Captive birds fed a poor diet will lose the red coloration and lighten to shades of pink and white.

Mated pairs will build nests in tree canopies in swamps, marshes, or on islands to deter predators from reaching the eggs and young birds. Three to five eggs are laid, and both parents share the responsibility of caring for the clutch and hatchlings.

In 1962, Trinidad and Tobago named the Scarlet Ibis one of their two national birds (the second being the Rufous-vented chachalaca) and banned hunting of the bird. The government created the Caroni Bird Sanctuary to protect the ibis, as well as many other native species of plants and wildlife. They conduct tours, educational trips, and other eco-tourism activities to encourage conservation of their beautiful flora and fauna to both tourists and locals.

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