It is four years since I first provided a close look at a bird which often features in my garden bird list – because it flies over ‘my airspace’ – and is commonly seen in our area: the African Sacred Ibis (Threskioruis aethiopicus). They are also common across much of eastern- and southern Africa as well as north of our borders. I was interested to see a large flock of them working their way through the flowers in the West Coast National Park.
These are birds with an ancient heritage, as illustrated by depictions of them in Egyptian murals – evidence of their role in religious life as they represented Thoth, the Egyptian god of wisdom, knowledge and writing. Birds to admire indeed. They have clearly enjoyed a long association with humans but, unfortunately, now appear to have garnered a rather sullied reputation in larger urban areas for seeking food in rubbish dumps – here they are more regularly seen poking their slender curved beaks into the lush grass of dairy farms or close to dams and rivers, where they wade in the mud and shallows.
Their contrasting black and white features strike me as being rather elegant, while their bald, black heads are unusual. Their legs and feet are also black – definitely turned out in their finest! They sport rather exuberant plumes on their backs.
African Sacred Ibises consume a varied diet of insect larvae, insects, reptiles, fish, frogs and even small birds.