This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the white-faced ibis.
If you venture out to the surrounding marshlands, lake shores or even flooded fields from late March through early October, you may spot a group of large, dark, long-legged birds with curved bills wading in the shallow water. If you check one out with binoculars, you’ll see body colors blending from shiny maroon to copper and green. Its legs and feet are red. There’s a bare patch on the head from the bill to its red eyes. A narrow band of white feathers borders the bare patch. This is a mature male or female white-faced ibis in breeding plumage. An immature bird lacks the white border and patch on its face, is generally duller in color with gray legs.
These gregarious birds probe mud and damp soil for aquatic insects, crayfish, earthworms, frogs, fish and spiders. Many will continue migrating northward to their breeding grounds. Our closest breeding colony is within the San Luis Valley. Another is along the Great Salt Lake. They winter from the western Gulf and Pacific coasts of Mexico to South America.
Once declining when pesticide ingestion compromised egg shell strength, their numbers are currently stable. Healthy wetlands are key to their continued success.