Asian crested ibis (Nipponia nippon)

Also known as: Japanese crested Ibis, Toki
Spanish: Ibis Moñudo Japonés, Ibis Nipón
GenusNipponia (1)
SizeLength: 55 - 78.5 cm (2)

The Asian crested ibis is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).

In spite of the Asian crested ibis’ remarkable recovery from the brink of extinction, this distinctive bird remains one of the world’s most threatened ibis species (4) (5) (6). Unmistakable in appearance, the Asian crested ibis has conspicuous red facial skin and legs, and a stunning, bushy crest (4) (7). While the non-breeding plumage is all white, breeding adults have a grey head, crest, neck and back (2) (4) (7). Like all ibises, the red-tipped bill is long, thin and down-curving (6) (7) (8).

Historically, the Asian crested ibis ranged widely through the Russian Far East, China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan. Today however, it is extinct in almost all of its former range, with just one wild population remaining in Shaanxi province in central China (2) (4) (5) (9).

The Asian crested ibis inhabits areas with tall trees for nesting, and wetlands or agricultural ground for foraging. Although, the remaining breeding sites are between 470 and 1,300 metres above sea level, historical evidence suggests that lowlands are more favourable to this species (4) (9).

Like other ibis species, the Asian crested ibis uses its long beak to probe shallow water and dense grasses in search of food (6). A wide range of small animals feature in its diet, including crabs, frogs, fish, beetles, earthworms, river snails, and other molluscs (2) (4) (9).

During the nesting season, breeding pairs become territorial and usually choose a nesting site near to good feeding grounds. The nest is a flimsy, twig platform built in the fork of a large tree, at heights of up to 25 metres above the ground. Each year, around March and April, a single clutch of one to five eggs is laid and incubated by both the male and female for 28 days. At the end of the breeding season, the young leave the nesting sites, while the adults rejoin non-territorial flocks (2) (9).
Although the surviving population is essentially non-migratory, only making small movements to higher altitudes in the summer, historically, some populations from Russia and north-east China did migrate to Korea over winter (9).

Although abundant throughout Eastern Asia up until a century ago, deforestation and habitat destruction caused the Asian crested ibis population to crash during the 20th century. When the last wild birds in Japan were taken into captivity in 1981, the species was believed to be extinct in the wild, but later that year, a tiny population of seven birds was discovered in a remote, mountainous area of Shaanxi Province in China (4) (5) (9). Thanks to the implementation of a conservation programme and the enforcement of laws protecting habitat, the wild population had risen to more than 600 wild individuals by 2009 (4) (5). However, although its population continues to increase, there are still fears for the Asian crested ibis, with various factors still threatening to undermine this species’ recovery. Indeed, the ongoing conversion of rice fields to dry wheat production is rapidly reducing the availability of feeding areas. Additional threats include the use of agrochemicals at feeding sites, occasional hunting and low genetic diversity (4) (9).

In addition to its legal protection in China, numerous conservation measures have been introduced since the Asian crested ibis’ rediscovery, including the protection of nesting sites and the periodic prohibition of logging, hunting with firearms, and usage of agrochemicals (4) (9). As of 2009, there are around 500 birds occurring within several captive breeding programmes (5). Following the successes of these programmes, captive bred birds are now being used to reintroduce the Asian crested ibis to parts of its original range in China and Japan (4) (5) (10).

To find out more about the Asian crested ibis, see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2009)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1992) Handbook of the Birds of the World – Ostrich to Ducks. Vol. 1. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. CITES (December, 2009)
  4. BirdLife International (December, 2009)
  5. Yu, X.P., Chang, X.Y., Li, X., Chen, W.G. and Shi, L. (2009) Return of the Crested Ibis Nipponia nippon: a reintroduction programme in Shaanxi province, China. BirdingASIA, 11: 80-82.
  6. Marshall Cavendish Corporation. (2001) Endangered Wildlife and Plants of the World. Marshall Cavendish Corporation, New York.
  7. Canadian Museum of Nature - Natural History Notebooks (December, 2009)
  8. Burnie, D. (2001) Animal. Dorling Kindersley, London.
  9. BirdLife International. (2001) Threatened Birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK.
  10. The Japan Times Online (December, 2009)