African ibises and spoonbills

The ibis and spoonbill family, Threskiornithidae

There are 6 spoonbill species and 29 ibis species globally. They are medium-sized to large wading and terrestrial birds with longish neck and legs. Their bills are long, thin and decurved, or broad and flat. Ibises and spoonbills are found on all continents other than Antarctic, with the highest diversity in the tropics. They are found in wetlands, with some species in forests, grassland and arid or semi-arid plains.

African Sacred Ibis
African Sacred Ibis


Ibises all have long, down-curved bills, while spoonbills have unique ladle-shaped bills. They usually feed in groups, probing mud or soft ground for food, especially crustaceans and worms. They are monogamous and highly territorial while nesting and feeding. They usually nest in trees or reedbeds.
There are 11 ibis and 2 spoonbill species found in Africa, and islands (including Madagascar).

Southern Bald Ibis
The iconic Southern Bald Ibis

Ibis foraging sensors

Birds in three families have been described as having a honeycomb pattern of pitting in the bones of the bill tips: probing shorebirds (Scolopacidae), the kiwi (Apterygidae), and ibises (Threskiornithidae). These are used while probing to detect the small vibrations made by prey as they burrow or swim through soil, mud or water (“Remote touch”). More aquatic ibises appear to have more extensive and densely pitted bill-tip organs than terrestrial ibises. These birds may therefore be able to locate prey hidden both underground and within the water column.

Glossy Ibis
Glossy Ibis

Bill and tarsus length

Plotting bill and tarsus lengths for the African ibises and spoonbills shows a very general increase that is possibly best described by a polynomial of order 2. The Glossy Ibis is an outlier, with longer legs (tarsus as proxy) relative to its bill length, than in all the other species.

Bill length vs tarsus length for African ibises and spoonbills

Longevity records

There are longevity records for the southern African species. Ringed column indicates number ringed / resighted or recaptured / recovered (as on 2 Dec 2019). Longevity in years months days (y m d). Click on ring number to see SAFRING details. See longevity records for more southern African species here.


 Spno  Species    Ringed  Longevity  Notes  Ringno
  81  African Sacred Ibis  Threskiornis aethiopicus  8986 / 100 / 344   21y 1m 6d   SAFRING story  52601770
  82  Southern Bald Ibis  Geronticus calvus  637 / 2 / 5   5y 5m 4d ±15  812185
  83  Glossy Ibis  Plegadis falcinellus  639 / 0 / 10  16y 4m 3d   12y 9m 27d in Rose et al. 2019; SAFRING story  710876
  84  Hadeda Ibis  Bostrychia hagedash  951 / 1067 / 48   10y 4m 21d   SAFRING story  836378
  85  African Spoonbill  Platalea alba  650 / 20 / 33   14y 0m 28d  903022
Hadeda Ibis
Hadeda Ibis


  If you would like to ring ibises or other birds, book a trip with Dieter at Birds4Africa !
Dieter is a qualified Bird Ringer and trainer, registered bird guide, and Weaver expert. Dieter is able to act as a bird guide for day trips in Cape Town, and is able to customise birds tours in South Africa and beyond.