Northern bald ibis

With only approx. 400 birds remaining in the wild (Morocco, Africa), Northern bald ibis are critically endangered. However, captive populations count about 2000 individuals, all originating from the Moroccan population. Therefore, it is important to continue with experimental projects testing reintroduction procedures of these highly social colonial birds. In Europe, this ibis went extinct 350 years ago. Since 1997 a focus was to establish a free-living, resident group in Grünau for basic research of social behaviour and to gain knowledge for reintroduction projects. In the first years we lost most of the birds to predators and due to dispersal in autumn. Nowadays we have a group of approx. 40-50 birds, which finds its own food during spring and summer and breeds and roosts in the aviary in the Wildlife Park.

The group started reproducing as a breeding colony in 2002, when 4 young fledged. Our results indicate that a reintroduction of this ibis into Europe is possible, if also a new migratory tradition can be established. The hand raising of bald ibis and other species creates also an experimental situation which offers controlled conditions for research. For example, we dealt with the influence of sibling age differences on aggressive interactions, stress and growth and investigated how single chicks grow and socialize within the colony in comparison with those who spent their first 3 weeks of life together with siblings. Studies on social complexity are underway.

Our experience shows that it would be possible to reintroduce the Northern bald ibis in Europe. Due to the harsh conditions during winter periods, reintroduction is only possible when the birds establish a tradition of migrating South. As migration routes are learned from the parents or other colony members, using hand-raised birds that follow ultralight planes could be a successful procedure. Since 2003 attempts have been made to teach hand-raised juveniles the route to a wintering area at the West coast of Italy (Orbetello). For further details see