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What is a Scarlet Ibis?

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  • Written By: Angie Bates
  • Edited By: John Allen
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  • Last Modified Date: 02 December 2016
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A scarlet ibis is a type of wading bird found in the northern regions of South America. This brilliantly colored red ibis is the national bird of the islands of Trinidad and Tobago. The scientific name for the scarlet ibis is Eudocimus ruber.

Other than their black wingtips, scarlet ibises are entirely scarlet. They have thin, long legs; partially webbed feet; and long bills which curve downward. Averaging 30 inches (75 cm) long and weighing about 3 pounds (1.35 kg), scarlet ibises have wingspans of 1 foot (30 cm), though the males are slightly bigger than the females. These birds live a maximum of 20 years in the wild but can live longer in captivity.

Found along shorelines, bays, estuaries, and mudflats, scarlet ibises eat crustaceans and mollusks, insects, frogs and snakes, and small fish. To find their food, they use their long bills to dig through the mud at riverbanks. Their scarlet coloring comes from their diet of crustaceans, such as shrimp, that contain large amounts of carotene, a red pigment.

Strong fliers and swimmers, scarlet ibises live and travel in flocks. When flying, they form a V, which helps reduce the wind resistance for the end birds. The lead bird falls back to the end when it gets tired, allowing another bird to take its place in the front.

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Several hundred birds will congregate in colonies during breeding seasons. Ibises do not mate for life, so the males will mate with more than one female. Courtship displays involve both movement and a honking call for the male and an answering squealing call for the female.

Nests are made out of twigs and placed in treetops near water sources. Three to five eggs will be incubated 19–23 days. Both parents defend and feed the hatchlings. Young fledge 39–45 days after hatching but stay with their parents for about 75 days.

The scarlet ibis is an ancient species of bird. Fossil records indicate the ibis has existed for 60 million years. In Egypt, they were considered sacred and were mummified and buried with pharaohs. The name "ibis" even means "religious worship" in ancient Greek.

Although the scarlet ibis is not considered threatened, these birds are hunted for their feathers, meat, and eggs. Loss of habitat and increased pollution are also causing their decline. To help prevent the scarlet ibis from becoming endangered, Trinidad has set aside 15,000 acres for the birds, and they are protected by the US Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

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