For years AB Marine Whale and Dolphin Watching have sailed past Jaheel island and told guests that birds no longer nest on the island because of the close proximity of the Port of Nqura and the ‘IronRats’ that discovered that they could swim across to Jaheel from the harbour wall and eat egss and tasty chicks. Rats can be resourceful creatures.
Today, 23 December was to be different, though….
As we were telling guests that birds no longer nest on the island, an eagle eyed youngster pointed out that we were incorrect and indicated a nest (an untidy one) populated by a flock of birds that we were unable to immediately identify.
It turns out that the birds are African Sacred Ibis and it appears that a colony of around 50 has settled on the island – these MAY be all single sex birds.
Why they have done so is pure conjecture at present but one hopes that this is a positive sign from the recent expansion of the Marine Protected Area on 1 August 2019 to include the islands of Jaheel, St. Croix and Brenton.
The African Sacred Ibis is one of nature’s anomalies – you either love or hate it’s appearance – on land it is ungainly, it’s long black neck and head make it look eyeless, it’s cry hoarse and wheezing and it’s scything beak is a stark reminder of the Grim Reaper.
“The African Sacred Ibis is normally found on inland and coastal wetlands, feedlots, abatoirs and rubbish dumps. To find a colony nesting on Jaheel Island is a bit of a first for us from AB Marine Whale and Dolpohin Watching;” Says Alan.
The diet of the African Sacred Ibis may be just the thing to help kepe the rats off of Jaheel Island as it’s varied diet consists of mainly insects, worms, crustaceans, molluscs and other invertebrates, as well as various fish, frogs, reptiles, small mammals and carrion. It may also probe into the soil with its long beak for invertebrates such as earthworms. It has been known to also feed on seeds.
Why is the ibis sacred?
The Ibis bird was sacred to and associated with Thoth the God of wisdom and writing. Thoth was often represented in the form of a man’s body with the head of the Ibis and was the patron of the educated scribes who were responsible for the administration of Egypt.
Strangely enough before we set off for the Whale Watching Cruise we were chatting about the Hadeda (another Ibis) and how it is a monogamous bird – serendipity must have had a hand in what we would discover later.
The species usually breeds once per year in the wet season. Breeding season is from March to August in Africa. It builds a stick nest, often in a baobab tree. The bird nests in tree colonies, often with other large wading birds such as storks, herons, African spoonbills, African darters, cormorants. It may also form single-species groups on offshore islands or abandoned buildings. Large colonies consist of numerous subcolonies and can number 1000 birds.
Females lay 1-5 eggs per season, incubated by both parents for 21–29 days. After hatching, one parent continuously stays at the nest for the first 7-days. Chicks fledge after 35–40 days and are independent after 44–48 days, reaching sexual maturity 1–5 years after hatching.
The African sacred ibis is classified as “Least Concern” by the IUCN. The global population is estimated at 200,000–450,000 individuals but appears to be decreasing.It is covered by the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA).
It was formerly found in Egypt, where it was commonly venerated and mummified as a votive offering to the god Thoth. For many centuries until the Roman period the main temples buried a few dozen of thousands of birds a year, and to sustain sufficient numbers for the demand for sacrifices by pilgrims from all over Egypt, dozens of ibis breeding farms (called ibiotropheia by Herodotus) were established, initially throughout Egypt, but later centralised around the main temples, each producing around a thousand mummies annually.
Our local Avifaunal specialist, Mokgatla Molepo, said; “Wow, this is surprising. I really hope that they’re getting rid of the rodents. Marion Island has a problem of mice and they’re preying on Seabird chicks. This would interest Prof Peter Ryan as he’s been working in this mice infestation on Marion Island.”
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