Tuesday 21 May
Black-headed ibis (Threskiornis melanocephalus)
What’s the World’s Favourite Species?Find out here.
Black-headed ibis fact file
- Find out more
- Print factsheet
Black-headed ibis description
The black-headed ibis (Threskiornis melanocephalus) is a large, white waterbird with a prominent bare black head and neck, and a long, down-curved black bill (4) (5). The body of this species is elongated but robust (4).
The tail of the black-headed ibis bears grey ornamental feathers, in contrast to its close relative the African sacred ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus), in which these feathers are black (4).
Both the male and female black-headed ibis are similar in size and appearance. During the breeding season, bare patches under the wings turn a blood red colour, the head can develop a blue tinge and the legs often become glossy black (4). The breeding adult also develops a loose ruff of white feathers on the lower neck and sometimes a yellowish wash on the breast and back (5).
- Also known as
- Asian white ibis, Indian black necked ibis, Indian white ibis, Oriental black necked ibis, Oriental ibis, Oriental white ibis, white ibis.
- Tantalus melanocephalus. Top
BirdLife International - Black-headed ibis:
- Slightly salty water, usually a mixture of salt and freshwater, such as that found in estuaries.
- Feeding on flesh.
- Diverse group of animals with jointed limbs and a hard chitinous exoskeleton, characterised by the possession of two pairs of antennae, one pair of mandibles (mouthparts used for handling and processing food) and two pairs of maxillae (appendages used in eating, which are located behind the mandibles). Includes crabs, lobsters, shrimps, woodlice and barnacles.
- To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
IUCN Red List (March, 2012)
- del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1992) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 1: Ostrich to Ducks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
- Kennedy, R.S., Gonzales, P.C., Dickinson, E.C., Miranda Jr, H.C. and Fisher, T.H. (2000) A Guide to the Birds of the Philippines. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
- Hancock, J.A., Kushlan, J.A. and Kahl, M.P. (1992) Storks, Ibises and Spoonbills of the World. Princeton University Press, New Jersey.
- Brazil, M. (2009) Birds of East Asia. A&C Black Publishers, London.
BirdLife International (March, 2012)
- view the contents of, and Material on, the website;
- download and retain copies of the Material on their personal systems in digital form in low resolution for their own personal use;
- teachers, lecturers and students may incorporate the Material in their educational material (including, but not limited to, their lesson plans, presentations, worksheets and projects) in hard copy and digital format for use within a registered educational establishment, provided that the integrity of the Material is maintained and that copyright ownership and authorship is appropriately acknowledged by the End User.
Black-headed ibis biology
The black-headed ibis is a social species, feeding and nesting in groups (2). It is primarily carnivorous, with a diet that includes frogs, tadpoles, snails, insects and worms. More coastal populations will also eat fish and crustaceans (2), and the black-headed ibis has also been found to sometimes eat vegetable matter (4).
To obtain food, the black-headed ibis usually probes with its bill in mud and shallow water, and can submerge its entire head and neck while wading if needed (2). It will also feed on dry land from time to time, but moves around as tides change (4). Interestingly, the black-headed ibis will sometimes associate with grazing buffalos, taking insects that are thrown up as the buffalos move around (2).
This species nests in well protected areas, often in colonies which include other species of heron and stork (4). It builds its nest in trees near to water, or in partially submerged shrubs. The breeding season of the black-headed ibis is determined by the monsoons, and it will often begin pairing up after the rains are over (4).
When courting, male black-headed ibises perform display flights and show off their ornamental plumes, and they will often spar with other males, thrusting their bill at opponents (4). The male will advertise to females by popping its bill and rubbing its head, and when pairing up both the male and female will ‘bow’ before mating. The displays of the black-headed ibis are notably much less aggressive than in the closely related African sacred ibis (T. aethiopicus) (4).
During mating, the male black-headed ibis straddles the female and grasps with its bill. Afterwards, the nest is built, with the male collecting sticks and the female arranging them (4). The nests of this species are around 30 centimetres wide (4). Between 2 and 4 eggs are laid, and are incubated for 23 to 25 days. However, it is rare that more than 2 young survive to fledge around 40 days later due to predation by crows and humans, as well as over-heating (2).Top
Black-headed ibis range
The black-headed ibis is also known as the Oriental white ibis, reflecting its South and East Asian range. This bird was previously a wide-ranging species, but its distribution has become more fragmented in recent decades (4).
The black-headed ibis is most widespread in India, and breeds throughout most of the country (4). It is also found in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, China, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, and is a rare visitor to Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines (2) (5) (6).Top
Black-headed ibis habitat
The black-headed ibis is predominantly a wetland bird, and lives mainly in lowland areas not more than 950 metres above sea level (6). It frequently inhabits swamps, lake and river margins, wet grasslands and paddy fields. More rarely it is also found in tidal mudflats, mangroves and brackish lagoons (2) (6).
This species also nests in wetlands (2), sometimes close to human dwellings if relatively undisturbed (4). The black-headed ibis is quite nomadic and will move in response to food availability and water levels, particularly floods or droughts (2)(6).Top
Black-headed ibis status
The black-headed ibis is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).Top
Black-headed ibis threats
Like other wetland species, the black-headed ibis is vulnerable to the drainage of wetlands and the conversion of its habitat for agriculture (2) (6). It is also increasingly affected by hunting and egg collecting, as well as poisoning by pesticides and disturbance at its breeding colonies (2) (6).
The East Asian population of the black-headed ibis is particularly small, numbering fewer than 100 individuals. An estimated 20,000 birds occur in other parts of South and Southeast Asia (6).Top
Black-headed ibis conservation
It has been proposed that the black-headed ibis should be monitored at important colony sites, to determine which threats are most affecting its populations (6). To reduce hunting and egg collecting, education programmes should be conducted, with the hope of encouraging greater protection of nesting habitats (6).Top
Find out more
Find out more about the black-headed ibis and its conservation:
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:
MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite ARKive images and videos and share them with friends.
Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials
Copyright in this website and materials contained on this website (Material) belongs to Wildscreen or its licensors.
Visitors to this website (End Users) are entitled to:
End Users shall not copy or otherwise extract, alter or manipulate Material other than as permitted in these Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials.
Additional use of flagged material
Green flagged material
Certain Material on this website (Licence 4 Material) displays a green flag next to the Material and is available for not-for-profit conservation or educational use. This material may be used by End Users, who are individuals or organisations that are in our opinion not-for-profit, for their not-for-profit conservation or not-for-profit educational purposes. Low resolution, watermarked images may be copied from this website by such End Users for such purposes. If you require high resolution or non-watermarked versions of the Material, please contact Wildscreen with details of your proposed use.
Creative commons material
Certain Material on this website has been licensed to Wildscreen under a Creative Commons Licence. These images are clearly marked with the Creative Commons buttons and may be used by End Users only in the way allowed by the specific Creative Commons Licence under which they have been submitted. Please see http://creativecommons.org for details.
Any other use
Please contact the copyright owners directly (copyright and contact details are shown for each media item) to negotiate terms and conditions for any use of Material other than those expressly permitted above. Please note that many of the contributors to ARKive are commercial operators and may request a fee for such use.
Save as permitted above, no person or organisation is permitted to incorporate any copyright material from this website into any other work or publication in any format (this includes but is not limited to: websites, Apps, CDs, DVDs, intranets, extranets, signage, digital communications or on printed materials for external or other distribution). Use of the Material for promotional, administrative or for-profit purposes is not permitted.