9 Curiosities About the Giant Ibis

The giant ibis is a very special and, unfortunately, rare bird. Find out here what makes it so wonderful.
9 Curiosities About the Giant Ibis

Last update: 25 May, 2022

The giant ibis (Thaumatibis gigantea) is one of the least known birds in existence. This is partly because the most famous ibis is the sacred ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus) and also because there are very few specimens left in the world.

That’s why it’s worth getting to know it a little better, because it’s an excellent tool to discover the wonders of nature and awaken the desire to conserve it. So don’t miss finding out more about this amazing bird! Let’s start.

Classification and description of the giant ibis

The giant ibis is a bird belonging to the order Pelecaniformes and the family Threskiornithidae. This, coupled with its genus, Taumatibis, creates its scientific name Thaumatibis gigantea.

The adult is mostly dark, with a bare, grayish head and upper neck and dark bands on the back of the crown and nape. The wing coverts are pale gray and the secondaries with dark crossbars.

The juvenile has short gray feathers on the back of the crown and neck, without the dark bands on the back of the crown and nape. It also has a shorter bill and brown eyes (adults have dark red eyes).

Giant ibis curiosities

The best way to get to know a species is through its peculiarities. The giant ibis is one of those birds that, at first glance, doesn’t seem very different from others in its family, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have certain oddities that make it unique.

An ibis.

1. It’s gregarious

You’ll never find a giant ibis alone. They always organize themselves in small groups or in pairs. It’s easier to find them in pairs during the breeding season and in flocks of about 7 individuals during the dry season.

2. Its name is not accidental

It’s called giant for a reason, as it’s the largest species of ibis in existence. It measures more than one meter from beak to tail and can weigh up to 4 kilograms (10 lb). Females are slightly smaller, so it’s a species that shows sexual dimorphism in this respect.

3. Its curved beak is useful

The shape of the bird’s beak provides valuable information about its lifestyle, as this is the bird’s main tool for exploring the environment and, of course, for feeding. Ibis have a long, curved bill that allows them to stick it into marshy soils and extract small buried animals.

4. It can stay for years in the same place

Not only is it not a migratory bird, but it’s also quite territorial. Thus, it can spend several years in the same area, defending it, and will only move when resources become scarce.

5. Both parents participate in incubation

When the breeding season arrives, both parents are involved in the care of the eggs. They take turns incubating them while the other goes in search of food. When the young hatch, it is also the task of both to care for them until they leave the nests they build in the treetops.

6. It is silent

It’s unusual to hear the vocalizations of this bird. Occasionally they’re heard at dusk or dawn emitting loud sounds indicating defense of their territory, but they tend to be silent so as not to attract the attention of predators.

7. Omnivorous

The giant ibis feeds on a variety of invertebrates, crustaceans, small amphibians and reptiles. Occasionally, it also consumes seeds, which is what gives it the title of omnivore.

8. It’s the national bird of Cambodia

Although this species is distributed in a few enclaves in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, it’s in the latter country where it has been recognized as a national bird. This was established after 1877, which was when the species was described.

9. It is critically endangered

Unfortunately, this species is critically endangered according to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). In fact, it’s in the top 100 most endangered birds. The main reason, as you’d expect, is the intervention of humans by hunting and egg collecting; draining wetlands for agriculture and deforestation undermine their numbers year on year.

Giant ibis populations are fragmented and separated from each other, so genetic variability is also decreasing. With small numbers of these birds remaining, even small subsistence farming is a danger.

This is why awareness is so important, as this ibis is close to disappearing. Although measures are being planned to protect habitats and resources, there are no major breeding and reintroduction programs, so the population continues to fall. We can only hope that the efforts of those who want to protect them will work.

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  • Keo, O. 2008. Ecology and conservation of the Giant Ibis Thaumatibis gigantea in Cambodia. BirdingASIA 9: 100-106.
  • Keo, O., Collar, N. J., & Sutherland, W. J. (2009). Nest protectors provide a cost-effective means of increasing breeding success in giant ibis Thaumatibis gigantea. Bird Conservation International19(1), 77-82.
  • BirdLife Internacional. 2018. Thaumatibis gigantea . La Lista Roja de Especies Amenazadas de la UICN 2018: e. T22697536A134200680. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T22697536A134200680.en . Consultado el 24 de mayo de 2022.