A good spring here for ibis

  • Blog Post by: Jim Williams
  • June 5, 2013 - 10:30 PM

An unusual number of ibis have been reported in Minnesota this spring. More than four dozen White-faced Ibis were listed as seen along with several Glossy Ibis. These sightings were shared with birders on the email list maintained by the Minnesota Ornithologists' Union (MOU). The White-faced reports are high in number but reasonably explained. The Glossy reports are unusual in both respects.

MOU records for previous sightings of White-faced Ibis list 38 spring sightings, 11 summer, and 26 fall. Those reported since April 19 equal more than 60 percent of all previous records. That's a lot of ibis. South Dakota and North Dakota birders also have been reporting this species, not unusual since the birds nest in the northeast corner of South Dakota. White-faced also have been reported in Wisconsin, including seven seen near LaCrosse. The farther east the sightings are made the more unusual they are. White-faced are western birds breeding mostly in southern California and Mexico with small populations scattered in several other western states, including South Dakota. The birds winter in Mexico.

Minnesota's White-faced reports stretched from the southeast corner of the state to the northwest, including reports from Carver and Dakota counties.

Most unusual are the sightings of Glossy Ibis. Total historic reports for the state are four, the same number said to be seen here in the past two weeks. This species breeds along the east coast of the U.S., wintering in the Caribbean. A biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources speculated that the White-faced birds were blown east from usual migration routes by our spring storms. That makes sense. It's hard to use the same rationale for Glossy Ibis, however.

One of the supposed Glossy Ibis was being seen at the boat landing on the north side of Swan Lake in Nicollet County. I photographed this bird a few weeks under cloudy skies. I used a 400mm lens, and shot from about 250-300 feet away. I thought my photos were inconclusive as to species, but I'm no ibis expert. So, I sent my photos to Kenn Kaufman, the author of "A Field Guide to North American Birds." Kaufman said the bird might be a Glossy but looked more like a Glossy/White-faced hybrid. Better photos would have helped; I needed to get closer to the bird, a risky maneuver, not wanting the bird to flush. A Glossy seen and photographed in Kittson County on April 24 looks like the real thing. You can see that photo by scrolling down the Agassiz Audubon Society's Facebook page:

Ted Floyd, editor of the American Birding Association magazine "Birding" with no hesitation called the bird Glossy. Clincher for me was the same answer from Dr. Francie Cuthbert, University of Minnesota ornithologist focusing on colonial water birds (nest together in colonies). Ibis are colonial.

The birds reported are not all of the ibis that came to Minnesota. They were just the birds that birders found. There certainly were more. We cursed the winds for cold weather and snow. Some of us blessed them for ibis. Perhaps you remember: my birding list is for species photographed. Glossy Ibis went on the list.

Looking at the photos of both species one might wonder how any question could exist, and the local discussion of these sightings raised many questions. Considered were age of the bird (which determines plumage), the lighting in which the sighting took place, and hybrids. Several subtle difference occur in plumage of these birds, the most obvious being the white feathers than encircle the face of the aptly named White-faced Ibis.


 Glossy Ibis. White-faced Ibis below.



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