This 2016 video is called The World of the Bald Ibis – Birds of Morocco.
24 Nov 2017
Important new breeding sites of mythical ibis discovered
It has had a dramatic history and was almost lost to extinction. Now this Critically Endangered bird is bouncing back with record breeding success in Morocco in 2017.
By Shaun Hurrell
As the day drew to a close, the orange light reflecting from the Atlantic seemed to soften the texture of the sun-baked Moroccan cliffs so much so they looked like they could crumble in an instant. There the birds were: perched on a couple of sloping, sandstone ledges, an entire colony of about 20 settling in for the night, low squawks and rustles heard above the scouring waves only a few metres below. Birds often nest in precarious places, and despite the cliffs in Tamri, southwest Morocco, actually being pretty strong, by knowing this species’ Critically Endangered status, you cannot help but feel a little worried for these large, iridescent-black creatures.
Throughout history, Northern Bald Ibis Geronticus eremita has had a turbulent relationship with humans. This mythical bald bird with a punkish crest once had an extensive range that spread across North Africa, the Middle East and Europe, and has been idolised by humans as symbols of fertility and virtue, even mummified to accompany Ancient Egyptian royalty.
Today, almost all remaining wild birds are restricted to Morocco
Yet it has lost its feeding areas to land-use changes, its nest sites have been built on or disturbed, and it has also been poisoned by pesticides, hunted, persecuted, collected in a gold rush for museums, and a dramatic range-reduction resulted in an all-time population low at the end of the 20th century with only 59 breeding pairs remaining in 1997. Today, almost all remaining wild birds are restricted to Morocco.
A local man approaches with a GREPOM (BirdLife in Morocco) cap to watch the colony, having arrived on a motorbike at the exact time the flock landed in the area. He’s a warden, coordinated by Souss-Massa National Park, and trained to prevent disturbance of the ibises at the colony and surrounding fields where they feed on lizards, scorpions and beetles. He also provides safe drinking water and sees off any threats.
They’re social birds, easily spooked, so this work has really boosted the global population of wild Northern Bald Ibis in recent years, bringing it up to 600 birds for the first time in modern history — thanks to long-lasting commitment from BirdLife, and recently, to GREPOM and the Moroccan government protecting colonies at Souss-Massa National Park, and this smaller site at Tamri. GREPOM have also undertaken public awareness work to help raise the profile of such an important species.
“With great cooperation between BirdLife and the Moroccan government, the colonies started to look crowded”, says Chris Bowden, AEWA Coordinator for the species on behalf of BirdLife. “Perhaps along the coast a new colony would form.” Something every conservationist would delight in saying. But don’t count your colonies until your ibises have hatched: with better official protection still needed for the colony at Tamri, for example, nothing could be certain for a species that has been listed in the highest category of threat on the Red List for over 30 years.
A few tentative reports came in. Then: “We found what we’d been waiting for: a new colony!” said Halima Bousadik, GREPOM, who co-authored the paper heralding the welcome news. During the 2017 reproductive season, two new breeding sites were discovered on two distinct coastal cliffs north of Tamri, with adults incubating at least three confirmed active nests, and totaling a new record of 122 wild breeding pairs.
“The importance of this news is that, with a steady population increase, Northern Bald Ibis are now exiting their ‘comfort zone’ of the guarded sites, giving us a lot of hope for more similar discoveries”, said Jorge F. Orueta, SEO/BirdLife (BirdLife in Spain), who has worked on the species since 2000. “We now need to check all suitable sites in the region, and implement a GPS tracking programme to learn their movements.”
Leaving the cliffs of Tamri, it strikes you that those who wish to call the Northern Bald Ibis “ugly” haven’t seen healthy birds up close in their natural habitat; haven’t seen how the light shimmers green against their magnificent black flanks. With news of new colonies, and a new phase in ibis conservation, perhaps history will repeat itself and the Northern Bald Ibis will once again be idolised throughout North Africa, the Middle East and Europe.
This 2013 video is called Northern Bald Ibis. Part of a flock of over 90 in the Sous Massa National Park .