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From the tombs of ancient Egypt to the golf courses of Vero Beach, the ibis is both exotic and familiar

The featherless face of the white ibis reveals bright reddish-orange skin. This ibis appears to be displaying the intense coloration associated with breeding season.

The featherless face of the white ibis reveals bright reddish-orange skin. This ibis appears to be displaying the intense coloration associated with breeding season.

Around the world, when people think of the ibis, they often associate the bird with the civilization of ancient Egypt.  

To the ancient Egyptians, ibises, which they saw along the shores of the Nile and on its muddy delta, were associated with Thoth, their god of scribes. Ibises were revered and even mummified. Archaeologists have found ibis mummies in sites such as Abydos, at Umm al-Qaab between the Nile and the western desert, which was also a burial site for pharaohs of Egypt’s first and second dynasties. From the Egyptian perspective, ibises were in regal company.

While the worship of deities with animal characteristics was ubiquitous in ancient Egypt, there may have been a specific reason for the veneration of the ibis, and it may have been based upon what is still this bird’s most recognizable feature: The distinctive curved bill of the ibis may have reminded the ancient Egyptians of a scribe’s writing implement, leading to the association with their god of scribes. Egyptian sculptural reliefs portray Thoth as a humanoid figure with the head — and bill — of an ibis.

The type of ibis known to the ancient Egyptians is today called the African sacred ibis. While that species is not found in Florida, there are two species of ibis that can be counted among our avian neighbors. Like the African sacred ibis and other members of the ibis family (or, to be more precise, the scientific subfamily Threskiornithinae), our ibises are easily recognized by their long, curved bill. The species found here are the white ibis, which is a common sight in the Vero Beach area, and the glossy ibis, which can also be seen at times. These fascinating birds are both familiar and exotic.