Black-faced ibis (Theristicus melanopis)

Side view of an adult black-faced ibis
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Black-faced ibis fact file

Black-faced ibis description

GenusTheristicus (1)

Owing its name to a conspicuous patch of bare black skin around its eye and throat, the black-faced ibis is a long-legged wader from South America (3) (4). In common with other ibises, it has a long, slender decurved bill, with which it probes soil and vegetation for prey (3) (5). Blending with the bare skin of the face, the bill is black, but the iris is a prominent red colour, as are the legs and feet. The top of the head and the back of the neck are rufous, while the sides of the head and neck are creamy white to yellowish buff, and the breast and belly are an attractive ochraceous buff. The flight feathers, rump and tail are mostly bluish-black or deep, glossy green, except for the greater wing coverts, which are white in the nominate subspecies Theristicus melanopis melanopis,and grey in T. m. branickii (4).

Wingspan: 100 - 110 cm (2)
1.1 - 1.4 kg (2)

Black-faced ibis biology

The black-faced ibis is a carnivorous species that feeds by probing in grassy pastures and wetlands, for insects, molluscs, the chicks of small birds, and small mammals such as mice (3) (5). Normally seen in pairs or small groups (7), it nests in rocky gullies, cliffs or woodland, where the female lays and then incubates two eggs for around 28 days before they hatch (5).

While T. m. branickii is sedentary, populations of T. m. melanopis in southern Chile and Argentina migrate northwards to the Argentine pampas in the non-breeding season, from April to September (2) (6).


Black-faced ibis range

Theristicus melanopis melanopis occurs in southern Chile and Argentina, with an isolated population in coastal Peru, while T. m. branickii is found in the highlands of Ecuador, Peru, northern Chile and north-west Bolivia (6).


Black-faced ibis habitat

Inhabits temperate grasslands, marshes, pond banks, and open forests (4) (5).


Black-faced ibis status

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Black-faced ibis threats

There are no major threats to the black-faced ibis, but while its global population is very large, with an estimated 25,000 - 100,000 individuals, the subspecies T. m. branickii is uncommon and highly localised throughout its range (6).


Black-faced ibis conservation

There are no known conservation measures in place for the black-faced ibis.

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

For information on the conservation of birds across the Americas, see:

For more information on this and other bird species please see:



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Small feathers concealing the bases of larger flight feathers, usually on the wings or tail.
To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
A diverse group of invertebrates, mainly marine, that have one or all of the following; a horny, toothed ribbon in the mouth (the radula), a shell covering the upper surface of the body, and a mantle or mantle cavity with a type of gill. Includes snails, slugs, shellfish, octopuses and squid.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.


  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2009)
  2. Elphick, J. (2007) The Atlas of Bird Migration. Struik, Cape Town.
  3. Hilty, S.L. and Brown, B. (1986) A Guide to the Birds of Colombia. Princeton University Press, New Jersey.
  4. Ridgely, R.S. and Tudor, G. (1989) The Birds of South America, Volume I: The Oscine Passerines: Jays, Swallows, Wrens, Thrushes and Allies, Vireos, Wood-warblers, Tanagers, Icterids and Finches. The University of Texas Press, Austin.
  5. Bristol Zoo Gardens (May, 2009)
  6. BirdLife International (May, 2009)
  7. Ridgely, R.S. and Gwynne Jr, J.A. (1992) A Guide to the Birds of Panama. Princeton University Press, New Jersey.

Image credit

Side view of an adult black-faced ibis  
Side view of an adult black-faced ibis

© Alejandro Tabini

Alejandro Tabini


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