home   about   search

biodiversity explorer

the web of life in southern Africa

Threskiornis aethiopicus (African sacred ibis, Sacred ibis) 

Skoorsteenveër [Afrikaans]; umXwagele (generic term for ibis) [Zulu]; Ndingilira [Kwangali]; Lehalanyane, Leholotsoane [South Sotho]; N'wafayaswitlangi [Tsonga]; Heilige ibis [Dutch]; Ibis sacré [French]; Heiliger ibis [German]; Ibis-sagrado [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Ciconiiformes > Family: Threskiornithidae

Threskiornis aethiopicus (African sacred ibis, Sacred ibis) Threskiornis aethiopicus (African sacred ibis, Sacred ibis)
African sacred ibis. [photo Jeff Poklen ©] African sacred ibis, Intaka Island Wetland Reserve, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

Distribution and habitat

Occurs across much of sub-Saharan Africa; in southern Africa, it is common in northern and eastern Botswana, the Caprivi Strip (Namibia), Zimbabwe, Mozambique and much of South Africa. It generally prefers the margins of inland freshwater wetlands, coastal lagoons, the intertidal zone, offshore islands, grassland, open habitats and man-made habitats, such as cultivated land, dams, sewage works, lawns, farmyards, refuse tips and abattoirs.

Distribution of African sacred ibis in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Predators and parasites

Movements and migrations

Largely sedentary, although it may make nomadic movements in response to localised rainfall.


It mainly eats invertebrates, doing most of its foraging on moist ground, probing the soil or snapping up prey from the ground surface. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:


  • Monogamous, breeding in groups ranging from a few to roughly 1500 pairs, often within a large mixed-species colony along with storks, herons, African spoonbills, African darters and cormorants. It may also form a tightly packed single-species colonies in trees and bushes, on offshore islands or even in abandoned buildings.
  • The nest is built by the female with material provided by the male, consisting of a large platform of sticks and branches or reed and sedge stems, lined with leaves, grass and other soft material.
  • Egg-laying season is almost year-round, peaking from August-March.
  • It lays 2-5 eggs, which are incubated by both sexes for roughly 28-29 days.
  • The chicks are cared for by both parents, one of whom are always present at the nest for the first 7-10 days of the chicks' lives. They leave the nest at 14-21 days old to form small groups nearby, fledging at 35-40 days old and leaving the colony at 44-48 days old.


Not threatened.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.