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Ibis sacré © MNHN - P. Roux

African sacred ibis

Revered by the Ancient Egyptians, the African sacred ibis, Threskiornis aethiopicus, can now only be found in sub-Saharan Africa. In France, populations of escapees from animal parks have formed, particularly along the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts.


Class, order & family :

Sauropsida, Pelecaniformes, Threskiornithidae

Genus :


Species :


Height and weight :

75 cm long; 1.20-m wingspan; 1.5 kg at the most

Incubation :

~ 28 days, 2 to 4 eggs

Natural habitat :

Wetlands, meadows, estuaries, cultivated fields

Diet :

worms, amphibians, molluscs, insects, fish...

Native region :

Sub-Saharan Africa

IUCN status: 

LC, Least concern

Way of life

As a group, ibis search the mud and hunt “by touch”: thanks to the many nerve endings of their long beaks, they can easily detect various prey in murky or muddy waters. They’re not fussy eaters! While most of their diet consists of insects, they are not averse to small fish, rodents, molluscs, crustaceans, amphibians and their tadpoles, bird eggs and even rubbish.

Come evening, they gather in their hundreds in “dormitories”.

Distinguishing features

A medium-sized bird, the African sacred ibis has a white plumage, except for the tips of its wings and the lower back, which are black. The adults’ head and neck, which are also black, are bare. As for the young ones, they are feathered up until the age of 2-3. The beak, which is thick and curved, is shorter than the female’s..


As the incarnation of Thoth, the god of writing, mathematics and words and protector of the scribes, the African sacred ibis was revered by the Egyptians and anybody that killed one of these birds would face the death penalty. The spirits of many mummified African sacred ibis, which were found in tombs, were supposed to accompany the pharaohs to their final spiritual home.

The bird disappeared from Egypt in the first half of the 20th century, as they were too prized for their flesh and feathers. However, they are still very much present in sub-Saharan Africa where their survival is dependent on their protection and the preservation of their habitat, which is being incessantly destroyed by humans, particularly wetlands. Outside of their environment, today they can be found around food industry sites and landfill sites, just like our seagulls.

In France, several hundred African sacred ibis, which descend from escapees from animal parks in the 1980s, have colonised part of the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts, threatening the egg-laying of local nesting species such as terns, egrets and lapwings... Tests as well as sterilisation operations are being carried out in Loire-Atlantique, in Morbihan and Vendée, in order to reduce the number of breeders and preserve the local fauna.

Ibis sacrés © MNHN - P. Roux
Ibis sacrés © MNHN - P. Roux
Ibis sacré © MNHN - P. Roux