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Home >> Species Guide >> Storks,Spoonbill,Flamingos And Ibises >>  Black-headed Ibis
 

  Black-headed Ibis Tringa ochropus

 
 
   Bill Harvey (Mystery bird of the month – August 2004)
     
 

Black-headed Ibis Threskiornis melanocephalus copyright Nikhil Devasar

  Identifying birds in a crowded, leafy nesting colony can be difficult but it is necessary if an attempt is being made to count or estimate the number of breeding pairs. Most of the larger, long-legged wading birds nest in mixed colonies during the summer. Typically in the Delhi area they will include the two smaller cormorant species, Night, Grey (and perhaps Purple) Herons, three or four egret species and Black-headed Ibis. Painted Storks nest after the monsoon and into the winter. One of the most accessible of such colonies is the one on the islands in the small lakes in Delhi Zoo where this photograph was taken by
 
  Nikhil Devasar. Early in the nesting season most of these species show striking changes associated with breeding. Bill and leg colour may change, the colour of the lores usually brightens, and dark birds such as cormorants may acquire whitish flecks. Back plumes and crests are usually more developed, most noticeably on the egrets. As the hard work of incubation and rearing the young progresses the birds revert to their standard plumage.  
     
 

Black-headed Ibis Threskiornis melanocephalus copyright Sumit Sen

 

Black-headed Ibis Threskiornis melanocephalus copyright Nikhil Devasar

 
     
 
Our mystery bird isn’t showing its head and the white plumage suggests one of the egrets. However the distinctly greyish extended tertial and scapular plumes and the rather short, thick black legs should quickly point us to Black-headed Ibis. Also typical is the unfeathered red wing joint seen from the underneath. For some reason these bare areas regularly occur in the ibises and can cause confusion in overhead flight as it looks like a plumage feature not illustrated in books. Black-headed Ibises sometimes acquire a yellowish flush early in the nesting season but are generally white birds with bare, blackish heads and necks and strong black decurved bills. The immatures have just the crown and upper hind neck grayish black. If the head and bill can be seen identification, even at a distance is not difficult. But like many wading birds they often rest with their heads buried in their back feathers and then confusion with the persistently somnolent and closely related Eurasian Spoonbill is possible. This species has longer legs however. If its head can be seen the long spatulate bill makes identification certain.

The other two Indian ibises are very dark. The wetland loving Glossy Ibis is the smallest with a purple and bottle green gloss on its plumage and a rather fine, curlew-like bill. It often has white round the
 

Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus copyright Ron Saldino

 
  bill base and in non-breeding and immature plumages the head and neck are flecked with white. The dumpy Black Ibis is a bird of cultivation and the edges of wetlands, often only in pairs. It can look very brownish or grayish in some lights but usually shows white wing patches and a bare red nape. The short thick legs are reddish and the bill powerful. These three Ibises and the Spoonbill differ from the herons and egrets (but share with the storks) the habit of flying with the neck and bill outstretched and held slightly below the body level; another useful identification guide for distant birds.  
     
 

Black Ibis Pseudibis papillosa copyright Vijay Cavale 2002

 

Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia copyright
Peter Phillips

 
 
 
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