The Crested Ibis is one of the rarest of all ibises. It is an endangered species that was once thought to be extinct in the wild.
Crested Ibises stand around 56 cm (22 in.) tall and have a wingspan that reaches 140 cm (55 in.). They are white with black, down-curving beaks and red faces and legs. They have crests that earned them the name, in ancient literature, of Xuan-mu, which means "whirling eyes", because of the bushiness of the crest and its placement behind the eyes . During breeding season, the crest, head, neck and back are grey.
Tragically, the stunning crests are one reason for the disappearance of this species. The plumes were popular as hat ornaments, and indiscriminate hunting, coupled with habitat loss and agricultural pollution, eventually pushed this species to the brink of extinction.
Crested Ibises forage in wetlands, as well as ploughed fields and rice paddies, for crabs, frogs, small fish, river snails, earthworms and insects such as beetles. Both parents share the job of hatching the three to four eggs that are placed in flimsy twig nests built in tall trees. The removal of trees in their nesting habitat has also been cited as a reason for their decline.
Formerly common in Japan, China, and eastern Russia, by 1981 there were believed to be only five Crested Ibises in the wild, all on Sado Island in Japan. These were captured and placed in the Sado Japanese Crested Ibis Conservation Center with hopes that a captive breeding program might save the species. That same year, a Chinese researcher discovered seven wild Crested Ibises in Yang Xian county, Shaanxi Province, China. This was more than fortunate because the captive Japanese birds failed to produce any young, and eventually they all died. The protected Chinese population began to increase, and in 1990, 25 ibis chicks were captured and placed in a protection and rearing centre. Eventually they began to produce young, and within a decade there were more than 130 Crested Ibises in captivity.
It appears that the Crested Ibis is now on the road to recovery, with the total population of wild and captive birds currently greater than 600. In autumn 2008, 15 captive ibises in Japan’s Yasei Fukki Station were being prepared for release into the wild. In April 2008, a Crested Ibis was sighted on the southern Yangtze River in China—the first to be seen there in fifty years.