All continents except Antarctica


Wetlands, forests, savannas, and coastal areas

Wonderful wading waterbirds

Ibis are medium size to large wading and terrestrial birds, related to storks and very closely related to spoonbills. They have a longish neck and legs, and the males are generally larger than the females and have longer bills.

All ibis species have bare spots, usually on the face or throat. The sacred ibis, black-headed ibis, and Australian white ibis also have featherless areas on the breast. These bare areas turn a deep red during the breeding season. Long legs and toes help make the ibis just as comfortable walking as flying or perching in trees.

Top billing

The long, thin bill of an ibis is perfect for probing in water or mud, or even in cracks in dry ground, in its search for food. The ibis uses its bill to feel around for tasty items such as grasshoppers, beetles, worms, crustaceans, fish, and carrion. Sensitive feelers on the inside of the bill help the ibis identify food before it even sees it. The bird's nostrils are at the base of the bill, rather than at the tip, so the ibis can breathe while sticking its bill in the water or mud!

The African sacred ibis was considered sacred in ancient Egypt but is now no longer found there. More than one million ibis mummies were found in one group of tombs in Egypt.
The stunning scarlet ibis has a distinctive long, thin bill used to probe for food in soft mud or under plants.
There are now more Waldrapp ibis, also known as hermit ibis or bald ibis, in zoos than in the wild. Only one wild flock is known to exist, found in North Africa and totaling about 100 birds.

Both the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park have a variety of ibis species on exhibit. The Safari Park also has several scarlet ibis that are part of the Frequent Flyers bird show.

Most ibis are fairly abundant, but there are some species that are very rare and are in danger of becoming extinct. The dwarf olive ibis Bostrychia bocagei, Waldrapp ibis Geronticus eremita, white-shouldered ibis Pseudibis davisoni, and giant ibis Pseudibis gigantean are at critical risk. The dwindling populations are due to many factors including intense hunting, drainage of wetland feeding habitats, commercial logging of nesting trees, and pesticides. Managed care in zoos and reintroduction to the wild may be the only way to prevent their extinction.

You can help us bring ibis and other species back from the brink by supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. Together we can save and protect wildlife around the globe.