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If you’ve never seen a White Ibis (Eudocimus albus), then I have a treat for you! Even if you live in coastal areas or otherwise see these birds often, I don’t imagine the sight of them could ever become “ho-hum.” Just look at their dazzling white plumage, pink face and ice-blue eyes. Their long, decurved bill is their most notable feature – even the Egyptians took notice.

When I started to research the White Ibis, I read the species accounts in a stack of field guides. One of them1 mentioned that Egyptians had worshiped the Ibises. Intrigued, I searched for more information on the Internet and found that indeed, the Egyptians fashioned a God in the image of an ibis:

The name of this god of writing, wisdom, and the moon2 is “Thoth.” Say that three times, fast. Now, thay that three thimes, thast. (Ha! I kid.) The Egyptians really named their ibis god, “Tehuti,” but the Greek name, Thoth, is the one that stuck.

I’ve had to reel myself in multiple times to stay on point, since I love history and especially mythology. The Egyptians lived along the Nile river, which supported abundant wildlife. When you think about the number of ibises that must have been a common sight, it is not surprising that the image of an ibis – even the birds themselves – were idolized.

Back to the present-day, and to Florida – I spoke with several locals who said that White Ibises were common yard-birds. Lucky people! Just think of it…beautiful birds to watch, free fertilizer, pest control, and soil aeration. Ibises deftly use their specialized bills to probe the mud for crayfish, insects, snakes – whatever they find down there. They are most typically found in the shallow waters of both fresh and saltwater marshes, and scenes like the one above seemed pretty typical.

Just about every source I’ve read about White Ibises comments on their social nature and habit of hanging out with various heron species. The ibis above is sharing a patch of marsh grass with a Tricolored Heron (Egretta tricolor).

The above image is James Audubon’s depiction of an adult and a young White Ibis. You may not be able to read the print, so let me point out that the scientific name was listed as Guara alba. The American Ornithologists Union (AOU) published the current taxonomic name in 1957 with their 5th edition of the AOU checklist.

Audubon’s description also says that, “…The numbers of this bird were greatly reduced through human killing. Under protection, it has again become abundant.” I’ve had to resist give in to the temptation to dig up the list of protected birds under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and good news – Thoth has been honored. The Ibises are protected. Next up, lets return the Ibis to Deity status. 😉

  1. Birds of Texas by Keith A Arnold and Gregory Kennedy, © 2007 Lone Pine Publishing International Inc
  2. Oracle’s ThinkQuest Education Foundation, at http://library.thinkquest.org/TQ0312390/thoth.htm

11 Responses to “White Ibis: from Deity to Dinner…and back?”

  • Susan Stapp:

    The first time I had ever seen these birds were in Winter Park,Florida,they are everywhere in the community where I was staying The park next to the complex these birds were roasting in the trees by the dozens very social birds the blue eyes really stood out amazing birds

  • We have a ton of those in the marsh here, although we seem to see far more immatures than adults, for some reason.

  • I visited Everglades NP and stood on the shore of Florida Bay one evening. I’ll never forget he beautiful flocks of white ibis, heading out across the bay to their roosting sites on nearby mangrove islands.

    • You know, I don’t think I saw any of the ibises in flight. Hmm. They are striking birds – I’ll bet they ARE a beautiful sight in flight. Everglades NP must have been amazing – I hope to visit there someday too. 😉

      • The sight I mentioned was many years ago in June. Bird populations have gone down in the Everglades, but I believe changes in the past years have helped. It’s a terrific place, but I don’t recommend June. The biggest flocks are mosquitoes!

  • Beautiful shots of the White Ibis Amber! I love the way the blue water brings out the blue in their eyes. I also love the way you always give us the bird’s history, and the addition of your field guide descriptions and photos always peaks my interest. To compare our concepts of a species today with these historical references is important to allow us to realize the value of wildlife conservation.

    • Larry – I used a circular polarizer while out and about that day – my first time. The filter allowed me to shoot in broad daylight at white birds without blowing the highlights. It also really made the blue of the water look gorgeous. I know – those light blue eyes are unexpected in a bird, and really pretty. Glad you like the history – it is always part of my “getting to know” a bird that his new to me.

  • Great shots of the white Ibis and thanks for the background information.

    • Hi dreamfalcon – glad to hear another person enjoys some of the history of the ibises – it was great fun to learn. I still like to say, “Thoth,” just for fun…no reason required. 😉

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