The Critically Endangered Northern Bald Ibis

The striking northern bald ibis (Geronticus eremite), with is long red bill and oblong-shaped black body, is not a bird that would usually attract too much attention because many people would not think of it as the most attractive bird. However, it is currently very much under the spotlight as it is a critically endangered bird that may be facing extinction if more effort is not put into preserving this species.

The IUCN Red List has labeled the northern bald ibis a critically endangered species because it has long been suffering a steady decline in population. The bird is now limited to an extremely small range and is very low in numbers. While management actions have lead to some success in increasing numbers in places such as Morocco, northern bald ibis numbers continue to drop overall. This means that the bird species still faces the possibility of extinction in the very near future.

The northern bald ibis is between 70 and 80 centimeters in size. Its body is mainly black with iridescent tinges of green, blue and copper. The face is naked with a crown and both are red in color. The nuchal area has a ruff of feathers and the bird usually makes very little noise – apart from a few grunts that might be uttered from its nest or while doing a courtship display. It is currently estimated that there are only about 227 of these birds in the world and these are limited to a 680 square kilometer area.

It was previously believed that this bird was only found at the Souss-Massa National Park in Morocco and at Tamri. However non-breeding birds have been found in Mauritiana and further breeding pairs or adults have been seen in Talila, Syria and Turkey. It was estimated that there were only 300 individuals in 1994 and, despite certain isolated increases, this number has been steadily dropping. While the population of the bird decreased dramatically in the past mainly due to unidentified natural causes, more recent declines are caused by human persecution, loss of suitable habitats, pesticide poisoning, dam construction and human disturbance. Loss of eggs to predators and poor chick survival are also notable factors in the species’ decline.

Fortunately efforts are constantly underway to try and prevent the extinction of this unusual bird. Many of the birds are nesting in national parks and other protected areas, and research, protection programs and collaboration with local communities will likely go a long way to helping. Hopefully more research into the feeding and breeding habits of the bird, as well as the habitat requirements of this unusual creature, will be done in the future to enable conservationists to better ensure the future survival of the northern bald ibis.