Colours of Wlidlife: Madagascar Crested Ibis

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Madagascar Crested Ibis

Willem is a wildlife artist based in South Africa. He says "My aim is simply to express the beauty and wonder that is in Nature, and to heighten people's appreciation of plants, animals and the wilderness. Not everything I paint is African! Though I've never been there, I'm also fascinated by Asia and I've done paintings of Asian rhinos and birds as well. I may in future do some of European, Australian and American species too. I'm fascinated by wild things from all over the world! I mainly paint in watercolours. . . but actually many media including 'digital' paintings with the computer!"

Madagascar Crested Ibis

I am quite enchanted with the island of Madagascar and its many weird and beautiful species that are found nowhere else. I've already dealt with lemurs and fossas and other things; this time I feature one of the island's endemic birds! This is a Madagascar Crested Ibis, Lophotibis cristata. The scientific name means 'crested ibis with a crest'! So it has a crest. Some other ibises have crests too; but this ibis has quite a beautiful crest, of iridescent blue and green, with a few buff to white feathers thrown in. Usually the crest is folded back, draping over the bird's neck and shoulders as in my painting. But the crest can be raised, making the head seem impressively large.

The rest of the ibis' body is mostly a warm rufous brown, with which the white of the wings contrasts boldly. The ibis also has a patch of naked, red skin around its eyes. Its legs are pinkish, and its typically ibis-like decurved bill is yellowish. It is small for an ibis, reaching an overall length of 50 cm/20" – about the size of a small bantam chicken.

Crested ibises can be found all over the island of Madagascar. There's not much information about them out there. They inhabit forest types ranging from the dry, thorny forests of the west to the moist rainforests of the east. They also occur in the higher regions of the interior. They use their long bills to probe into the soil or to search around the leaf litter for juicy invertebrates. It is apparently not as vocal as some of the other ibis species, uttering a low 'grow-grow-grow' call during the breeding season, mostly at night. Females lay about three eggs, typically, per season.

This species shares the island with the Madagascar Sacred Ibis, which is quite similar to the African Sacred Ibis, and the Glossy Ibis, which is not restricted to the island, indeed occurring in Africa and much of the rest of the world as well. The crested ibis is quite different from other ibis species and, given a good glimpse, can't be confused with anything else on the island.

Unfortunately, this species, like pretty much everything else on Madagascar, suffers much at the hands of humans. They are hunted and eaten in many regions. For the moment they are safe, surviving wherever they are left alone, and occurring in nature reserves and national parks as well.

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