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Glossy Ibis

These birds are named after their striking glossy plumage.

Despite a large global distribution, the Glossy Ibis has a somewhat restricted range in the southern U.S., though it has been expanding. One result of this Glossy Ibis range expansion has been increased contact with White-faced Ibis colonies, and hybridization has occurred in some locations, especially in Oklahoma.

Glossy Ibis don’t typically breed until two or three years of age. Hurricanes and other stormy weather can cause nesting failures, and the usual assortment of nest predators takes a toll as well, but individuals have been known to live for 14-21 years.


Description of the Glossy Ibis


The Glossy Ibis is a long-legged, long-necked, long-billed wading bird that is dark in color. It has a decurved, tan bill and grayish or blue facial skin. A white line around the facial skin does not connect at the rear of the eye. Legs are greenish with red joints. Length: 23 in.  Wingspan: 36 in.

Reddish neck and greenish wings.

Glossy Ibis

Photograph © Greg Lavaty.


Sexes similar.

Seasonal change in appearance

Winter adults are browner overall.


Similar to winter adults.


Marshes and flooded fields.


Insects and crayfish.

Glossy Ibis

Photograph © Greg Lavaty.


Forages while wading and walking.


Breeds along the Atlantic Coast and is resident in the southeastern U.S. Also occurs in Central and South America, Europe, Asia, India, Africa, and Australia.

Fun Facts

The Glossy Ibis uses its long bill to feel food items deep in the mud.

The Glossy Ibis is capable of short swims, but seldom does so.


Usually silent, but capable of croaking.


Similar Species

  • White-faced Ibis
    White-faced Ibis have pinkish facial skin with a white line completing a loop behind the eye, and all reddish legs.



The nest is a platform of sticks and aquatic plants and is placed in a low tree or on an island.

Number: 3-4.
Color: Pale blue or green.

Incubation and fledging:
– Young hatch at 21 days.
– Young fledge (leave the nest) in 28-49 days after hatching but remain with the adults for some time.


Bent Life History of the Glossy Ibis

Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.

Bent Life History for the Glossy Ibis – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.



The status of the glossy ibis, as a North American bird, is a puzzling problem, which it is difficult to solve with our present limited knowledge. It is widely distributed and well known in the tropical and subtropical regions of the Eastern Hemisphere, but in this hemisphere it seems to have a very limited breeding range, in which it is rare, and to occur elsewhere only as a straggler. It is known to breed in very limited numbers in Florida and Cuba, probably in Jamaica and possibly in some of the other West Indies. There are numerous casual records as far north as Nova Scotia and Quebec and as far west as Wisconsin and Colorado; it seems likely that these records were made by wanderers from Florida or Cuba and not by stragglers from the Eastern Heniisphere. The problem is complicated by the fact that the white-faced glossy ibis has been found breeding in Florida. Mr. William Brewster (1886) obtained a set of eggs of this western species from Mr. C. S. Maynard, who received them “directly from the collector, a young man by the name of Lapham: accompanied by the skin of the female parent, which was shot on the nest.” The specimens were “taken April 18, 1886, at or near Lake Washington (near the head of the St. Johns River), Florida.” Another very interesting, but puzzling, fact was discovered by Oscar E. Baynard (1913), who has given us the best account of the nesting habits of the glossy ibis in Florida. Hc collected one of the parent birds and thought at first that it was a white-faced glossy ibis, because the bare skin of the head was “pure white where the feathers join the skin for the full length across the front of the head extending down to the upper corner of the eye” and again “starting at the lower corner of the eye, the white streak extends down to the lower side of the lower mandible.” This is well illustrated in his two photographs. This white skim might easily be mistaken for the white feathers in the face of the white-faced species and thus lead to much confusion. I can find no allusion to this character in any of the books on American or European birds and it seems hardly likely that all could have overlooked it, if it is a common character in normal birds. Mr. Baynard’s bird may have been an abnormal bird; or this may be an ov’~rlooked character, perhaps present only during the height of the breeding season, in a distinct species found only in Florida and the West Indies, where it is a rare bird and seldom collected.

Nestinff: Mr. Baynard’s (1913) observations in Florida give us about all the information we have on the home life of this species, in North America; he writes:

Glossy ibis bred on Orange Lake for four years of the five since I first saw it there; this year they did not nest there for some cause. I have seen glossy ibis once in 1912 in the month of November on the fiats of the Miakka River and on two occasions on the canal that is the extension of the Caloosahatchee River leading into Lake Okeechobee. I have heard of it being seen by a hunter and trapper on the Kissimmee River, but it must be considered ~’erv rare in Florida. I have talked with scores of hunters and trappers, men who are observant and know their birds well, and but two have described the “black curlew” to me, and neither of them saw it in the nesting season, so no doubt the only nesting records for Florida are from Alachua County, where for four years I have found them nesting on Orange Lake. For the four years pr~x’ious to 1909 1 know it did not nest on Orange Lake, as I spent too much time there to miss seeing it. It must have bred there formerly though, as I understand a s~t was taken in that section about a dozen or more years ago by a gentleman who was staying in Micanopy.

The following observations were made during a period of eight weeks, during which time I had two pairs of these birds under daily surveillance. In looking for a suitable place to put up my photographic blind I stumbled onto these two pairs just beginning to build their nests, the second for the season, as all of the first built nests had been abandoned after being looted by the fish crows which swarmed in the rookery. Both parent birds aided in the construction of the nest, and I could not see that one bird did any more of the work than the other. I did note, however, that in one case the female selected the site and in the other the male did the selecting. Both nests were built at a height of about 10 feet in thick elder bushes, and about 3 feet from the tops of the bushes, as plainly shown in the accompanying photographs. The nests were ready for eggs at the end of the second day, although the nests were not finished by any means. Glossy ibis have the same characteristics as the white ibis in that they continue to add to their nest even up to the time that the young are able to leave it, so that by the time the eggs are ready to hatch the nest will be almost double the size that it was when the first egg was laid. An egg was laid each day until one nest contained four and the other three. Incubation did not start until after the last egg had been laid a full day. After the first egg was laid, however, the nest was never without one or the other of the pair close by, something that was very necessary in this rookery on account of the thieving fish crows. During the period of incubation, which lasted in each case exactly 21 days, I noticed that the female did most of the incubating; the male, however, put in about 8 hours out of the 24 covering the eggs. The female sat all night and until about 8.30 or 9.00 a. in., when the male came in from his morning hunt for food; on his approach to the nest he would give his call when about 50 feet away and his mate would immediately answer and spring up from the nest and pass him in the air sometimes 25 feet from the nest. The male would always fly directly to the highest twig above the nest and after about five minutes of careful preening his feathers he would give three or four calls in a medium tone and spring down to the nest, stand a few minutes examining the eggs and then go stalking through the bushes until he found a twig that suited him, break it off with his bill and take it back to the nest and after placing it on top settle down to a three hour job of incubating, getting off the nest, however, usually once during that time and getting another twig to add to the nest. The female would return and give her bleating note about 50 feet from the nest when the male would stand up and wait for her to alight in the bush over the nest, then would ensue about 15 minutes of as neat courting and billing and cooing as one will ever see being done by a pair of doves. This loving disposition toward each other seems to be characteristic of the glossy ibis, as every pair that I have observed have done it. The white ibis will occasionally do it, hut not for any such length of time as the glossy. They will stand erect and seem to rub their bill against the other one, all the time making cooing (guttural, I must admit) notes of endearment, they will preen each others feathers and act just like a couple of young humans on their honeymoon; these loving scenes continued until the young were able to fly, never seeming to diminish at all. This trait I certainly admire, and while it is known to exist in birds that mate for life, is seldom seen in birds that are supposed to mate only for a season.

Eggs: The glossy ibis lays three or four eggs, probably more often the latter. They are ovate, elliptical ovate or elongate ovate in shape. The shell issmooth or very finely pitted, with little or no gloss. The color varies from “Niagara green” to “pale Nile blue.” The measurements of 75 eggs average 52.1 by 36.9 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 57.8 by 3S, 57.5 by 43, 47 by 34, and 50 by 33.5 millimeters.

Young: Mr. Baynard’s (1913) notes on the behavior and feeding habits of young glossy ibises are well worth quoting in full, as follows:

After 21 days had elapsed three of the eggs hatched. The same routine was carried on, however, as when they were incubating; the female doing most of the covering, but both birds doing the feeding of the young. Until the young were 5 days old one bird always stayed at the nest and it was at this period that the last egg laid was hatched. I hardly expected it to hatch. This last hatched bird was considerably smaller than the three others were at time of hatching and always seemed to be more or less dwarfed until about time for them to leave the nest, when there was little difference to be seen in the size, but lots of difference in their activity, the last hatched one being the most active of the entire lot.

The disposition of the young at all times in both nests was fine. All were very active and restless after a week old, and at the age of two weeks would not stay in the nest at all but stray ont to the ends of the limbs of the bushes in which the nests were placed, returning, however, to the nest to be fed, as I never observed on any occasion the old one feeding the young any place but on the nest. In this they differ from the white ibis, as they will feed the young wherever they find them and seem to let the youngsters tyrannize over them. On several occasions I noticed one or the other of the young when at the age of about S weeks try to make his parents come to him to feed him, but it never worked, as the old one would pay not the slighest attention to him, and when it looked as though the parent was through feeding and about ready to go away the youngster would give in and come climbing (lown to the nest, where’ the old would treat him just as if 110 had been there all the time. I never noticed any of the young fighting among themselves, like the herons will sometimes do, but at all times they acted like well-behaved children, the only exceptions being that the three older birds would often take t,mrns in trying apparently to swallow the last hatched baby. He was sure a hardy scamp or lie would never have lived through the treatment he had to undergo. When the young are over 3 weeks old over half the food of these glossy ibis would be moccasins. I kept a record of the food by making the young disgorge after the old ones had fed them. This itemized record will appear f,mrther along. The manner of the glossy ibis in feeding is to regurgitate the food up in the throat or mouth and for the young to put his bill, and many times head, down tIme old one’s throat and take his portion. After one bird has been fed the second and third will get their turns, never longer than three minutes apart and usually immediately. I have seen the three young get two portions each in about seven minutes. Qoick work this. They would each get four to five portions at each visit of the parent; when young, however, they would get as high as seven or eight tunis. They would, of course, at this tender age, be unable to take on a very large quantity, and it would also be in a finer state of digestion, as many times I have seen the parent return from feeding and stand around and caress the young and not offer to feed until an hour had elapsed. This no doubt was to allow the food to digest to a point where the young would be able to eat it. But after the young had reached the age of 2 weeks and inure this was never necessary, as they could at that age take anything from a portion of a half grown moccasin to a grown crayfish. At this age of the young the meal, if a moccasin, would be disgorged into the nest, and being half digested, be pulled into small enough portions to be capable of being swallowed by the young, who would take this up from the nest themselves. In no other instances did I ever see them pick up amiy food themselves until after they were quite large, when they would reeat the disgorged food that I had made them “cough up.” In every case, however, the cAd bird fed from the throat, with the exception of the moccasins.

The old birds showed a great deal of intelligence in the feeding of the last hatched chick. They would feed the oldest three in every case three or four portions before they would ever notice the baby. This was no doubt due to the fact that it was unable to assimilate the food in as coarse a stage of digestion as its older brethern and apparently the parents knew this, because when they started to feed the baby they would give him as many meals as he cared to take and would never offer to give the older ones any more until another visit from the feeding grounds. As the young grew it necessitated many visits to the marshes for food because they were a hungry bunch all the time. I spent usually 8 to 10 hours a day in the blind photographing and making notes and no day during the four weeks after the young hatched did the parents make less than six trips each with food for the young and they made on some days as high as 11 trips each, the last ones being late, sometimes after dark. These last trips, however, were usually fo~ their own food, as only on three occasions did I ever see the old ones offer to feed the youngsters when returning late.

After the end of the sixth week the young spent all their time flying down to the edge of the island and wading and feeding in the shallow water, returning, however, at night to roost on the old nest. The old ones, at this stage, will feed them wherever they can find them, and after the young are about 7 weeks old they will leave with the parents to their feeding grounds and stay with them returning at night to roost. At about this time all the ibis of both species are usually able to fly and it is not long then when some day they all leave as suddenly and mysteriously as they came in. They have probably pretty well cleaned up the hunting grounds of all the crayfish, etc., and move of necessity rather than choice. It is at this period that they are found in the Northern States. At what time they return south I am unable to state.

Plumages: The plumages and molts of the glossy ibis are apparently similar to those of the white-faced species.

Food: Mr. Baynard (1913) made a careful study of the food of the young glossy ibises; his itemized summary of 194 meals gives the following totals: 412 cutworms, 1,964 grasshoppers, 1,391 crayfish, and 147 snakes. He says that the adults feed “principally on crayfish, cutworms, grasshoppers, and other insects and young moccasins,” from which it would seem that they are very useful birds. He figures it out in this way:

Total of 3,914 vermin in 194 meals, or an average of 20 to each meal. As the young would average seven meals apiece each day this would mean 28 meals, and 20 vermin to the meal would make 560 vermin for a day’s feed for the young alone. The parents fed these young for about 50 days, making the total of vermin destroyed by this one nest of birds about 28,000, and this is saying nothing of what the old birds ate, which would be at least half of what the youngsters devoured, making a total of 42,000 vermin eaten while rearing one nest of young. When we stop to think that there were about 9,000 pairs vf ibis, including both the white and glossy on this lake in 1912 that successfully reared nests of young, one can hardly conceive of the many milions of noxious insects and vermin of all kinds destroyed. The vast amount of good to any section of the country where this vast army of ibis nest can hardly be reckoned in dollars. The cutworms and grasshoppers, we all know what great damage to growing crops they do; the crayfish destroys the spawn of fish, which in turn live off the eggs and young mosquitos. The deduction is self-evident to anyone when we consider the vast amount of territory in Florida that is covered with water. The crayfish also destroy levees on the rivers and cause the destruction of millions of dollars damage to growing crops.

Snakes, especially the moccasins, which, by the way, comprised 95 per cent of the snakes captured by the ibis, do lots of harm. Moccasins in rookeries destroy thousands of eggs and young birds, and even if they didn’t they are so deadly poisonous that anything that helps to keep them down to reasonable numbers is welcome.

Behavior: I must quote again from Mr. Baynard (1913) regarding the behavior of this species:

The disposition of the old glossy ibis towards the other ibis and herons is not good. I will have to admit that the glossy is pugnacious towards them, and one will never find an occupied nest of any other species as near as 10 feet to a glossy nest when they have reached the point where it Is about time for the young to hatch. They will run off ibis and herons regardless of size and all the other birds seem to recognize their superiority and leave. Then happens a peculiar thing. The fish crows will, of course get the deserted eggs at once and then the glossy ibis will begin dismantling these old nests, pulling them apart and dropping the sticks down on the ground, or in the water, whichever happens to be underneath, saving any sticks that appeal to them and taking them back to their own nest. I noticed that it took six days for this pair to dismantle 14 white ibis nests and 3 little blue heron nests that they had made leave. The worst of it was that one of the white ibis had baby young in and when they died the glossies threw them out of the nest. It is barely possible, however, that the pair of white ibis that had used this nest were killed on their feeding grounds and failed to return, as this is the only instance where I ever noted the glossy dismantling a nest occupied by young.

The notes of the glossy ibis are very hard to explain so that any one would have the least idea how they sounded. The note of the white ibis is three grunting notes, sometimes uttered distinct, but more often sounding like a continuous note. The glossy starts off exactly like the white ibis with a grunting sound and then uttering four distinct notes resembling what to my mind best explains them, the bleating of a young calf or sheep. The ibis sounds as though there was something in the throat that gives a guttural sound. I became quite expert in imitating them, so much so that I could many times fool the young, but as for writing it, that is beyond me. This note is usually used in all eases when they approach the nest and when they are leaving and just as they take wing. They have another series of notes they use when caressing each other and caressing the young and the female has a very soft note, sort of cooing, that she uses when feeding the young when they are only a few days old. The young themselves never appear to make any notes except when trying to avoid a person, when they utter a squawking note of fear. The two nests in question were placed quite close to each other and as the young arrived at the age of two weeks and more they could always recognize their parents’ notes even before I could distinguish them. I always knew which old birds were approaching by the actions of the young birds in the nest. They never in all the time I observed them made a mistake and put on the alert and expectant look for the parents of the other nest. I could not distinguish any material difference in the notes of the four adult birds, with the possible exception of the female of the nest photographed; she appeared to have a coarser tone to her calls. Glossy ibis appear to have less enemies than any other of the birds in the rookeries. Fish crows appear to be the only thing that bother them and they in nearly every case secured the first sets. Man, of course, is their next enemy, as is usually the case with any species but here in this rookery they were not molested by man at aU.

Range: Tropical and subtropical regions of both hemispheres.

Breeding range: In the Eastern Hemisphere, east to China and Borneo, south to New Guinea and Australia, west to Egypt and Senegambia and north to Spain, Greece, and Persia. Definitely known as a breeder in America only in Florida (Micanopy and Bird Island, Orange Lake). It probably nests also in Louisiana and in Mexico.

Winter range: Although generally resident in its breeding range, the glossy ibis has been takexi at widely scattered localities. In America these have been mostly to the north while in the Eastern Hemisphere it apparently occurs regularly in South Africa. It is known as a straggler from Santo Domingo, Cuba, Jamaica (specimen in National Museum), and the Bahama Islands.

Casual records: It has occurred casually northward along the coastal regions of the United States and southern Canada and is accidental in the interior.

There are two records for the District of Columbia (Washington, about 1817 and September, 1900); one for New Jersey (Great Egg Harbor, about May 7, 1817); one for Pennsylvania (near Philadelphia in 1866); several for New York (Grand bland, Niagara River, August, 1844, Cayuga Lake, 1854, and May 27, 1907, Tonowanda Swamp, May, 1884, Dunkirk, April, 1894, Seneca River, 1902; lowland Island, May, 1902, and also Southampton, Jamaica Bay, and Canarsie Bay); one for Connecticut (Middletown, May 9,1850); a few for Massachusetts (near Cambridge, about May 8,1850, Nantucket, 1869, Eastham, May 4,1878, and Orleans, May 5,1878); and one for New Hampshire (Lake Winnepesaukee, October, 1858). There is a specimen in the Thayer collection from the island of Montreal, Quebec, taken May 27, 1900; McKinley reported the occurrence of a specimen in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, about 1865, while Brewer reported one seen on Prince Edward Island in August, 1878.

In the interior the glossy ibis is known only as a straggler. One was taken from a flock of three in Marion County, Illinois, on February 27,1880; two were seen and one was taken near Fairport, Ohio, in 1848; a pair were shot near Hamilton, Ontario in May, 1857; a specimen was secured at Lake Horicon, Wisconsin, on November 3, 1879; one was taken near Denver, Colorado, several years prior to 1900, another was secured on the Arkansas River near Salida, Colorado, April 12,1898, while a third Colorado specimen was collected at Barr in June, 1905. Accounts of the occurrence of this species in other States have been either indefinite or have proved upon investigation to refer to the white-faced glossy ibis.

Egg dates: Florida: 6 records, April 1 to May 25. Continental Europe: 14 records, April 16 to June 13; 7 records, May 16 to 29.

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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