Two of the four ibis species occurring in South Africa are commonly seen in and around our town. The Hadeda Ibis (Bostrychia hagedash) is a grey-brown ibis with glossy bronze-green wing coverts. Not surprisingly, its onomatopoeic name is reminiscent of its harsh cries of ha – ha – ha – de – da. This is the sound we generally wake up to early in the mornings and hear again at night as several of these large birds come to roost communally in our Natal Fig tree. Occasionally something disturbs them at night and they rent the still air with their raucous calls until all have assured each other that all is well and they settle down again.
While I generally only observe two or three poking about for food in the garden, large numbers gather on the many school sports fields and open grassy areas in the town to feed on insects, worms and other invertebrates. They have an acute sense of smell which is an aid to finding food as the Hadeda Ibises probe into the soil for food with their bills.
The other ibis we see on a daily basis is the African Sacred Ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus). The black bill of these birds blends in with their naked black head and neck. They have a characteristic white body with black tips to their flight feathers. It wouldn’t surprise me to find that the elongate, plume-like black scapulars inspired the Afrikaans name, Skoorsteenveër – chimneysweeper.
A large flock of African Sacred Ibises gather at the edge of a dam just outside of town – many of them roost communally in large trees within the CBD at night – and are frequently seen in the grassy areas as well as feeding on the lush grass under irrigation in the Belmont Valley.
They mainly feed on invertebrates as well as fish, frogs, carrion and refuse – for the latter reason they can be observed on the fringes of the municipal dump too.