The sacred ibis was revered by the ancient Egyptians, who believed that the god Thoth, who symbolized wisdom and knowledge, came to earth in the form of an ibis. The sacred ibis is depicted in ancient Egyptian murals, and mummified specimens have been found in many burial sites; however, because of extensive swamp drainage and reclamation of land, the sacred ibis is now extinct in Egypt.
Unlike most other ibises, the sacred ibis is a very quiet bird. The only sounds it makes are low croaks. It has long legs and a thin, down-curved bill which is sensitive to touch and used by the bird to probe for food in mud and underwater. Its webbed feet are an adaptation for a semi-aquatic lifestyle. The sacred ibis nests colonially, often sharing roosting areas not only with its own species but also with storks, herons, spoonbills, and cormorants. The male and female build an untidy platform nest out of sticks in a tree or bush. Both parents incubate the clutch of two to five eggs for about three weeks and then take turns feeding the hatchlings. While the young leave the nest when they are between 14 and 21 days old, their parents continue to feed them until they gain their flight feathers and leave the colony, after about six or seven weeks.
This species is listed as Least Concern by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). While no longer found in Egypt, the sacred ibis is common throughout its present range.
The sacred ibis lives in marshes, swamps, riverbanks, flooded farmlands, and coastal lagoons in sub-Saharan Africa and in the Middle East. The species has been introduced in France, Italy, Spain, and the southeastern part of the U.S.
These birds are opportunistic feeders. In addition to fish, snails, frogs, and aquatic insects, they will sometimes prey on the eggs of birds and reptiles. They also scavenge in rubbish dumps and refuse bins at outdoor restaurants.
Body length is 25 to 29 inches, and weight averages three pounds. Lifespan is between 16 and 20 years.