From being primarily associated with wetlands and woodlands the hadeda ibis has successfully expanded its range across much of the country even where it was formerly absent, and nowadays populations flourish even in urban areas. In suburbia it continues its association with water in the form of well-watered lawns, ponds and swimming pools.

Hadedas, as they are  known locally, are relatively large birds (adults weigh about 1.25 kg, that is about 2.75 lbs) with impressively long bills that they use to find prey, including probing into soft ground, eating mostly insects and earthworms, and also molluscs and small reptiles. In keeping with their size, they have an impressively loud call, and the name “hadeda” is imitative of the multi-syllabic call.

Portrait of a hadeda ibis

At first glance the hadeda ibis does not strike one as an average garden bird, however, they survive in cities and suburbs, despite being described as a wading bird associated with wetlands and wooded areas

It is surprising that such a large bird has been able to survive and thrive in urban and suburban areas, especially when considering that 100 years ago it was found in small numbers in localised areas and was considered to be a threatened species.

The hadeda used to be extensively hunted, so much so that it was declared a protected species in the former Transvaal in 1935 and in Natal in 1941. This protection contributed to its survival and its population numbers recovering.

In subsequent decades, not only did the hadeda ibis survive but it also extended its range. As former wetlands and forested areas were degraded making them less viable for many former inhabitants, alternatives opened up for hadedas in the form of irrigated land on farms, as well the well-watered lawns, playing fields and airstrips in urban areas, all providing environments where they could forage successfully. In addition, alien trees planted in these areas provided hadedas with nesting and roosting sites in areas where previously trees were relatively absent.

Pair of hadeda ibis perched in a tree in a suburban garden, South Africa

A pair of hadeda ibisis perched in a tree in our garden while preening after bathing in our garden pond

Hadedas are able to find water in suburban areas, including as mentioned in swimming pools, garden ponds and birdbaths. In our garden, on hot summer days, hadedas can spend a long time just standing in a bird bath keeping cool, but they also use them for drinking and if there is enough space, bathing.

Hadeda ibis standing in garden pond

Keeping cool: A hadeda ibis standing in one of our birdbaths

Hadeda ibis drinking from birdbath in a suburban garden

7 Hadeda-ibis

Drinking from a shallow birdbath requires a fair amount of ingenuity and flexibility

Hadeda ibis bathing in a bird bath in a suburban garden

This resourceful bird even managed to have a thorough bath in the relatively small bird bath

Pair of hadeda ibises sharing a bird bath

It’s not unusual for two birds, either a breeding pair (as in this case) or a parent and offspring sharing the birdbath, sometimes standing together for considerable periods of time, though wary of my prying presence with the camera

Hadeda ibis drinking from a garden pond

It’s much easier to drink from the deeper water of the pond. At the pond we have observed hadedas apparently catching tadpoles

Pair of hadedas in a garden pond

 Bathing in the pond can be a very social activity. I managed to photograph this pair without spooking them. When there are several birds together one of them invariable spots me trying to take photographs and alarms everybody into flying off

                                                                                       Hadedas bathing and preening in garden pond

Taken from a window I photographed one bird splashily bathing while the other interrupts its bath to stretch its jaw (or yawn), something hadedas do fairly often during or after bathing. I have read that many birds do this jaw-stretch while preening but I gather that the reason for them doing this is not really understood

Hadeda ibis splashing and bathing in garden pond

Bathing activity is quite a prolonged process and the birds seem to really enjoy it

Very wet hadeda after repeatedly bathing in garden pond, South Africa

This bird after repeatedly bathing is totally soaked

Wet hadeda jaw-stretching while preening after bathing in garden pond

Another wet hadeda can be seen doing the yawn or jaw-stretch while preening after its bath. (Part of the pond in the background is empty as a leak was in the process of being repaired.)

Hadeda ibis preening its feathers

Probably the most important part of bathing is preening afterwards and oiling and conditioning feathers. This bird is zipping up the feather barbs to restore the proper functioning of the feathers

Hadeda ibis yawning of jaw-stretching while preening

This hadeda ibis flew up into a tree to preen after bathing in the pond. I took this photo through a window and captured the still-wet bird doing a yawn or jaw-stretch while it was preening

Hadeda ibises are generally fairly tame in our garden, but they do seem to be much warier when bathing – perhaps they feel more vulnerable then? This vigilance is even more pronounced when there are several birds bathing in the pond. I have seen as many as six birds together in the pond while they bathe or preen, but their wariness has made it difficult to photograph them without frightening them off.

I did, however, manage to get some video clips of birds bathing in the pond, as can be seen in the video below. Included in the video is footage I took of the the bird in the last photograph (above) while it was preening.


Hadeda ibis stretching its wings after preening

Sources: Macdonald, I.A.W., Richardson, D.M. & Powrie, F.J. 1986. Range expansion of the hadeda ibis Bostrychia hagedash in southern Africa. South African Journal of Zoology, 21(4): 331-342;  Roberts VII Multimedia PC Edition.  1997-2016 Southern African Birding. For details go to; Singh, Preshnee. 2014. Range expansion of the Hadeda Ibis (Bostrychia hagedash) in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal: An urban environment. MSc dissertation, University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Posted by Carol

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