Ibis range from Gulf Coast to the Piney Woods

Jay V. Huner
Journal Correspondent

Ibises are common wading birds along the Gulf Coast but can be locally common along river valleys northward through the piney woods. The Cajun name is Bec Croche which literally means Bent Beak.

At a distance, White, White-faced, and Glossy ibises resemble medium-sized herons and egrets but it doesn't take long to notice that their long bills are decurved.

Unlike herons and egrets that stab their prey with long, straight sharp-pointed beaks, ibises mostly probe into openings like crawfish burrows or sweep their beaks back and forth in front of their bodies. When an ibis feels prey - crawfish, small fish, tadpoles, insects, etc., it snaps its beak on the prey.

Ibises are rarely found alone. They are usually encountered in flocks ranging from a dozen or so to several hundred. They need about a pound of food a day. So, you can imagine how much prey a really big flock of ibises can remove from a swamp, marsh, or crawfish pond in a day.

There are three species of ibis in Louisiana, the White Ibis, Glossy Ibis, and White-faced Ibis. Adult White Ibises are snow white but young birds have a white body and brown wings. Glossy and White-faced ibises appear to be dark brown at a distance but are actually purplish with a greenish tinge. White-faced Ibises are the most common of the dark ibises and, during breeding season have a distinct white band around the base of their beaks. The Glossy Ibises have a bluish, difficult to see, band in the same location. Outside the breeding season, the two species are difficult to separate although the White-faced Ibis has a reddish colored eye and that of the Glossy Ibis is brown colored.

To add injury to insult when trying to distinguish the two dark ibis species, the birds do hybridize.

Unlike herons and egrets, ibises fly with their necks outstretched. They also have a habit of flapping their wings for a time and then gliding. So, it is generally easy to tell flocks of ibises from flocks of herons and egrets. They often fly in V-formation so don't confuse them for geese when you are hunting waterfowl.

Ibises generally feed in water less than 6-8 inches deep but large flocks can sometimes be found in deeper crawfish ponds in water up to their breasts or deeper. In such cases, they are usually surrounded by herons and egrets that use their sharp eyes to locate and capture prey frightened away from the flock of ibises by their foraging activities.

A favorite food of White Ibises is crawfish accounting for their habit of feeding, much to the consternation of crawfish farmers, in crawfish ponds. As they move through ponds, they regularly raise their beaks with crawfish in them. The crawfish are crushed by the powerful beaks to soften the bodies and remove the claws and swallowed. The crawfish and other tough prey do not go through the ibises. Rather, the shells are retained in the tough gizzard and periodically ejected. These balls of crawfish parts, called boli, accumulate in reddish orange piles where the ibises rest on levees. Are ibises edible? Folk lore says that there is nothing tastier than a White Ibis sauce pecante. But, despite the thousands and thousands of ibises in Louisiana, there are no hunting seasons for the birds and killing them can result in heavy fines.