Green Ibis

Green Ibis

New Bird for Costa Ballena

AUTHOR: Jack Ewing

In 1987, Hacienda Barú started a list of all the birds sighted on the reserve. It grew steadily at first, several months for the first 100 species, and several years for the next 100. But it took twenty-five years, until October 2012, before I spotted number 361, a large, dark-colored bird with a curved bill sitting on the branch of a cecropia tree. I barely had time to dash into the house, grab my camera, run back out, and snap two photos before it flew away. The images wouldn’t have won any awards, but they were good enough to identify the bird as a Green Ibis (Mesembrinibis cayennensis). The species wasn’t seen again until November 2022, ten years later. Two of them were walking around in the rain in an open area in front of our house, plunging their long, curved beaks into the soggy earth up to the feather line and pulling back just in time to avoid getting dirt in their eyes.

Green Ibis

As the sun was peaking over the coastal ridge the following morning, we heard a new bird sound, a very pleasing one, and after a bit of searching, we spotted a single green ibis in a tree near the house. Stiles and Skutch in A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica describe the call perfectly as “deep, mellow, rolling trills.” “That looks like the male,” I commented to Diane. “I hope he has romance on his mind.” Though both sexes have almost identical coloring, the male is fuller and heavier, while the female is longer and trimmer. The mornings had been rainy the first few days the ibis were here, and I had to use my imagination to see a slight tinge of green. One cloudy day, I even mistook the male for a black vulture when it flew over my head and landed not far away. An opening appeared in the clouds for a few minutes. The ibis spread its wings to the warming rays of the sun, and finally, I saw the iridescent green reflecting off its feathers and accepted that the bird was aptly named.


Green Ibis

On the first dry day since the appearance of the green ibis, we saw one of the birds carrying several thin sticks toward a thicket of trees, and the next day observed three more flights with nesting material. We haven’t found the nest yet, but I heard the call one morning and located both birds in their favorite tree. They were standing close to each other and clashing their beaks together. He stopped, arched his neck, ruffled the feathers on the back of his head, and looked down on the female who was bowing low. Part of the mating ritual of the green ibis? Or just a lover’s spat? 

We may have a new resident bird species in the Costa Ballena, a very stunning bird.


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