Family Ibises, Spoonbills (Threskiornithidae)

Endangered

Asian Crested Ibis (Nipponia nippon)

You are currently reading a free species account of the HBW Alive. To make the most of all of HBW's features, discover our subscriptions now!
HBW Alive Plans & Pricing  Why subscribe

Taxonomy

French: Ibis nippon German: Nipponibis Spanish: Ibis nipón
Other common names: Japanese Crested Ibis, Oriental Crested Ibis, Imperial Crested Ibis, Crested Ibis
Taxonomy:

Ibis nippon

Temminck

, 1835,

Japan

.

Proposed race sinensis, described around end of 19th century, turned out to be the species’ breeding plumage. Monotypic.

Distribution:

NE China; only known population in Qinling Mts (in Shaanxi Province). A reintroduction programme is being undertaken in this area#R. Once widespread in NE Asia and Japan, wintering S to Hainan.

Descriptive notes

55–84 cm#RDistinctive bushy-crested ibis with red facial skin and legs. Non-breeding adult white, with orangish-cinnamon tones in tail and flight feathers, whereas breeding adult has grey head, neck, mantle and scapulars; salmon-coloured flush to the primaries and secondaries present all year; bill black with red tip and base#R, and the eyes, facial skin and legs are red (in both sexes) throughout the year#R; young mainly grey with dark irides and deep yellow facial skin and legs#RBreeding plumage acquired by cosmetic application of black, tar-like substance secreted by well-defined patch of skin in throat and neck region; specialized down feathers develop in this region during a localized moult in Nov, while the tar-like substance is secreted in Jan–Feb and is applied to the head, neck and upper torso by combination of bathing and daubing behaviour#R. A pale morph has been described from observations of captive birds#R.

Drawing by Francesc Jutglar
Descriptive notes:

55–84 cm#R. Distinctive bushy-crested ibis with red facial skin and legs. Non-breeding adult white, with orangish-cinnamon tones in tail and flight feathers, whereas breeding adult has grey head, neck, mantle and scapulars; salmon-coloured flush to the primaries and secondaries present all year; bill black with red tip and base#R, and the eyes, facial skin and legs are red (in both sexes) throughout the year#R; young mainly grey with dark irides and deep yellow facial skin and legs#R. Breeding plumage acquired by cosmetic application of black, tar-like substance secreted by well-defined patch of skin in throat and neck region; specialized down feathers develop in this region during a localized moult in Nov, while the tar-like substance is secreted in Jan–Feb and is applied to the head, neck and upper torso by combination of bathing and daubing behaviour#R. A pale morph has been described from observations of captive birds#R.

Voice

Few data, only calls described in the literature are “taaa” and “aaa”#R.

Habitat

Marshes, streams, rivers, ponds, lakes, rice fields and other cultivation, surrounded by forested hills or near clumps of large trees, which are used for roosting and nesting. In winter, preferred feeding habitats are rice paddies#R, riverbanks and reservoirs#R. Only known surviving population occurs at 470#R–1300 m#R. Reintroduced birds on Sado I, Japan, forage in rice paddies for most of year: in late summer they favour the levees around the paddies, grasslands, uncropped paddies and abandoned paddies#R.

Food and feeding

Diet in Japan was freshwater fish (Misgurnus, Carassius, Parasilurus), amphibians (frogs, newts and salamanders), crustaceans (Potamon, Cambaroides), freshwater molluscs (Viviparus, Cristaria) and insects, especially locusts#R, grasshoppers and adults and larvae of aquatic beetles (Hydrophilus, Cybister); in China, eels also important. Intake of 300–500 g of food per day in captivity. Forages during day, in small flocks (especially in non-breeding season)#R, though over 50 birds recorded together in 19th century; probes into mud or shallow water with bill, or picks up prey from ground. Reintroduced birds on Sado I, Japan, also predominantly consume small invertebrates. During late summer, late Jul–Sept, they tend not to forage in paddyfields and do so on the levees and in short grasslands, where they particularly capture earthworms. They also capture Misgurnus loaches in ditches throughout the year but especially in winter#R.

Breeding

Surviving population in China starts late Feb to early Mar, with laying from mid Mar to early Apr (14 Mar–8 Apr in recent study involving 271 nests)#R; in Japan formerly started in Feb, with laying in Apr. Monogamous, with both pair members contributing to all aspects of breeding#R. Nowadays solitary; formerly in colonies, said to be small, but no information from period when species commoner; unconfirmed report of breeding in mixed colony with herons and cormorants in late 19th century in Aomori, Japan. Nest is large, untidy, flimsy stick platform, lined with small twigs, leaves and hay; built on branches of trees (e.g., pines, Pinus tabulaeformis#R and P. massoniana#R, the oak Quercus variabilis#R, chestnuts Castanea spp. or poplars Populus, also Ulmus pumila and Platycarya strobilacea)#R, at height of c. 4–25 m#R and often within 100 m of human settlements, being dictated by location of favoured feeding areas#R. In past sometimes reused same nest in subsequent seasons, but more recent observations indicate that pairs usually build a new nest each year#R. Usually three eggs (1–5)#R, although mean clutch size appears to vary strongly in response to food availability (2·84 ± 0·77), laid at two-day intervals#R and may lay replacement clutch if first fails#R; incubation 28–30 days in wild, 25 days in captivity; chicks have grey down, white below, and hatch asynchronously#R at 1–2-day intervals#R; young birds fledge at 45–50 days (in captivity at just 35 days)#R but do not become independent until c. 70 days#R, fed by both adults (by regurgitation)#R. Unlike other ibis species, which facultatively practice brood reduction (to two fledglings), this phenomenon is relatively uncommon in N. nippon, for which studies reveal that 78·3% of hatchlings fledge and that aggressive dominance behaviour among nestlings is unstable, with all chicks taking turns to peck aggressively and > 50% of pecks are so-called “false pecks”#R. Mean hatching success is 80·2%, ranging from 35·7% to 100%, with overall breeding success at 65·6%, and egg losses are mainly due to infertility or the eggs being addled, predation, and human disturbance, while chick deaths are principally the result of food shortages, predation and disturbance by local inhabitants#R. Nest-sites at lower altitudes appear to less successful, perhaps because of the greater probability of human disturbance at these elevations#R, although other research indicates that it is higher-elevation sites that are in fact suboptimal and that the ibis can tolerate more disturbance than originally suspected#R. A chick hatched by one of the reintroduced birds in Shaanxi was killed by a non-venomous snake (Elaphe carinata)#R, and at the original site snakes (especially Elaphe carinata), Siberian weasels (Mustela sibirica) and yellow-throated martens (Martes flavigula) have been observed to predate eggs and nestlings, and the two mustelids might also take adults (in response, efforts have been taken to make nest-trees predator-proof)#R. Sexual maturity apparently at c. 3 (2–4) years old, with first breeding by females (3·64 ± 1·36 years) not significantly earlier than males (4·17 ± 1·47 years)#R; one of the last wild males that was taken into captivity in Japan lived to 26 years old#R, while a female still alive in the late 1990s#R eventually died at age 36 years#R.

Movements

Populations of C China, including only known surviving one, sedentary, but between Jul and Oct move c. 25 km (15–45 km) from their breeding areas to plains along Hanjiang R#R; home range averages 100·8 ± 49·8 ha or 175·6 ± 91·3 ha (depending on the methodology used) and the breeding home range of different pairs overlaps by c. 24·5 ± 27·3%, more exceptionally up to 46·8–64·3%#R. Satellite-tracking has revealed that family groups disperse progressively farther from nest-sites in a southerly (especially SE) direction over a mean distance of 20·3 ± 7 km, with females (9·6 km) moving on average significantly farther than males (5·9 km)#R. Former populations of Siberia, Manchuria and N China wintered in SE China and Hainan. In Japan, birds that bred in C Japan apparently sedentary, while those from S Hokkaido and N Honshu migrated S in winter, with records as far S as Ryukyu Is. Flies in line or in V formation.

Status and conservation

ENDANGERED. CITES I. Increasing. The most recent census of the wild population, obtained from simultaneous counts at known roost sites in October 2012, found 1090 birds, within an expanded range covering ten counties, although over 97% were in Yangxian County#RAs recently as 2007 it was estimated at c. 330 mature individuals, and perhaps 500 birds in all, within a restricted range of 2800 km². Formerly widespread in SE Siberia (Amurland), NE China (at least S to Gansu)#R, the Korean Peninsula and Japan, and not uncommon in Japan according to medieval accounts and art; drastic decline during 20th century related to deforestation of pine woodland nesting habitat, human persecution, especially hunting (which still occasionally occurs), and contamination by mercury compounds and other pesticides applied to paddyfields during 1950s, as well as draining of rice fields in winter#R (within its present range many winter rice-growing areas have been converted to wheat production). No recent records in Siberia and only scattered sightings in Korea since 1930 (and none since 1950)#R, although there are tentative plans to reintroduce the species in South Korea. The only known surviving wild breeding population is in Shaanxi Province, China, where two pairs and three young discovered in 1981 (following extensive search)#R, estimated at 46 birds in 1989 and numbered c. 140 birds by 2002, with perhaps c. 600 in the wild in 2007#R; conservation of wild population (which is protected within specially created Shaanxi Crested Ibis Nature Reserve since 1990)#R has been supported financially by Japan#R and captive-bred individuals have been released (usually three years after hatching) into wild at last known site#R, as well as at Huayang, a higher elevation area in Yangxian, where 23 birds were introduced between 2004 and 2006#R. Large areas of suitable habitat have been identified, mostly in Yingxian and neighbouring Xixiang and Chenggu#R. In Japan, population reduced to few dozen birds by c. 1920, then 27 in 1941, 24 in 1952 and just 11 in 1957#R; extinct in 1981, when last five birds on Sado I taken into captivity, but in 2008 the species was reintroduced there, which effort is ongoing#R. Management of grass height on he levees around rice paddies and in grasslands, which the reintroduced birds use in late summer, has been identified as important in ensuring the success of this reintroduction#R. China released 26 individuals at a second site in Shaanxi, Zhaigou village in Ningshan county, in 2007, of which 14 died or disappeared during the following winter, although two pairs successfully bred the following year#R, while another 16 birds were released in the same area subsequently, following which five pairs bred successfully in 2009#R, and by early 2012, a total of at least ten breeding pairs were present, producing 66 eggs and successfully fledging 33 young in 2008–2011. The Chinese authorities also have plans to reintroduce small numbers into Dongzhai National Nature Reserve, Henan Province, in which region the species historically occurred#R, as well as to other sites#R. Shaanxi population receives effective protection, and supplementary feeding in winter; electrocution on power lines, malnutrition or starvation (80% of wild birds found dead had very little food in their stomachs), and intestinal diseases have been causes of mortality among reintroduced birds#R#R, while the inevitable low genetic diversity, given the recent bottleneck through N. nippon has seemingly now passed, is a further cause for concern, especially as species with low genetic diversity are thought to be more limited in their ability to tolerate a wide range of environmental extremes#R. Assessments of genetic diversity in the introduced population at Sado Island, Japan, has nonetheless found that planned mating in captive-breeding programs for the population has succeeded in maintaining genetic diversity and minimizing kinship#R. China (which has five units)#R and Japan (two units) collaborate in resource-sharing#R captive-breeding programmes, initially with little success: in 1989 the first two chicks hatched in Beijing Zoo, but did not survive and the first successful breeding there was not until 1992#R, when three chicks were reared#R, with the first chick hatching in Japan in 1999#RBy 2002, the number in captivity was at least 130 individuals with breeding success good (as also true in the wild), with 103 birds fledged in 2002–2004 alone#R; by 2005 almost 500 birds were present in captivity#R and this total had increased to 600 by 2010

Recommended citation

Matheu, E., del Hoyo, J., Kirwan, G.M. & Garcia, E.F.J. (2018). Asian Crested Ibis (Nipponia nippon). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from https://www.hbw.com/node/52762 on 21 June 2018).