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 Chinese Indigenous Wildlife --Crested Ibis

Brief Introduction

Crested Ibis’ head is partially bare, showing its red skin, and it has a dense crest of white willow leaf like plumes on the nape, a long down-curved beak and white plumages mixed with pink. The length of the bird is about 80cm (31 inches). They build their nests on the tall trees and inhabit there. While foraging, they fly to rice fields, river banks, marshes and streams in the valley and mainly feed on grasshoppers, frogs, small fishes, loaches and river snails.

Distribution Areas

The Crested Ibis (Nipponia nippon) was once one of eastern Asia's most widespread and familiar birds. However, deforestation and destruction of their habitat led to successive extinction of Russian, Korean, and Japanese populations in the 20th century (Yamashina 1967, Archibald et al. 1980). The Chinese Crested Ibis population, once also thought to be extinct since the 1960s, was rediscovered in Yangxian County in Shaanxi Province at the end of a 3-year (1978-1981) survey by a research group from the Chinese Academy. The survey covered nine provinces including Liaoning, Gansu, Hebei, Shandong, Henan, Anhui, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Shaanxi (Liu 1981). The single remnant population in Yangxian, comprised of only two pairs and three chicks survived in the remote Qinling Mountains at an altitude of 1,200 m where human exploitation was relatively limited (Shi et al. 1989, Shi and Cao 2001). The wild population has increased from seven to ~600 individuals following protection and management of this area, and its range has expanded to ~3,000 k[m.sup.2] to lower elevations in the past 29 years.

The Crested Ibis is a rare and precious species in the world. In history, Crested Ibis was widely distributed in East Asia, including East China, Japan, Russia (Former Soviet Union) and North Korea. Since the middle of 20th century, the population of the Crested Ibises has reduced rapidly due to the change of the inadaptable environment caused by human activities, such as the decrease of the rice fields, the wide applications of fertilizers and pesticides and the reduction in forest area. The Crested Ibis was designated a “Special Natural Monument” by the Japanese government in 1952, and on the 12th International Conference for Bird Preservation held in Tokyo, the bird was listed as an “International Protected Bird”, and in 1968, it was named the “NO.198 Natural Monument” by South Korean Government. At the end of the1960s, the Crested Ibis got extinct in Former Soviet Union and from the 1970s to the 1980s, it disappeared in the Korean Peninsula. During this period, the Japanese government made great efforts in preserving this species, but failed. Unfortunately, the last one in Japan died in October 2003.

In China, the Crested Ibis used to be widely distributed in Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning, Hebei, Beijing, Shanxii, Shaanxi, Gansu, Inner Mongolia, Henan, Shandong, Anhui, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Shanghai, Zhejiang, Fujian and Taiwan. In the beginning of the 20th century, the population of the Crested Ibises declined sharply and it was on the verge of extinction in 1978. Meanwhile, the last wild Crested Ibis in Japan died and the other six captive ones were not able to reproduce any more. However, in May of 1981, a small group of seven wild Crested Ibises were discovered in Yang County, Hanzhong City of Shaanxi Province, being the only population of wild Crested Ibis in the world.

Since then, great efforts have been made on the protection and scientific research of Crested Ibises and noticeable achievements have been made in these fields, especially in captive breeding. In 1989, the world’s first captive bred bird was born, and since 1992, the fledgings could manage to survive. By 1995, there were about 35 Crested Ibises in the wild and 25 ones in captivity, making it possible to save this rare species from extinction. At present, the total population of Crested Ibises in China has raised to about 2,000.

Physical Features

The body of the Crested Ibis is about 79 centimeters (31 inches) long and 1.8 kg (4 lb) in weight. The male and female ones have similar white plumages with slight tinge of pink at the root of the feather. Its forehead and face are bare, showing red skin and it has a dense crest of willow leaf like crest on the nape. When it flies, vermeil from behind the wings and tail come out from the pure white plumage, looking graceful and beautiful. Due to its gentle nature, the Crested Ibis is called ‘lucky bird’ and is considered as the symbol of good luck and happiness by Chinese people.

Habitat and Diet

The Crested Ibis inhabits temperate forests and hills, neighboring with wetlands such as rice fields, river banks, streams, ponds and marshes. Being solitary, quiet and shy, they usually fly and forage in pairs or in small groups. The Crested Ibises are quite sensitive to the environment and they only rest or nest on tall trees where there are rice fields and marshes nearby for foraging with quiet environment and few natural enemies. They spend the night on tall trees, and during the day, they forage at the nearby rice fields, mud basins, lands or clean streams.

Present Status

In the past 20 years, China has taken a series of efficient measures and spent millions of RMB in protecting and saving the Crested Ibis. By the end of 2000, the population of the wild Rested Ibis had built 119 nests in the wild, laid 360 eggs and hatched 268 fledgings. At present, there are about 100 witnessed Rested Ibis inhabit in the wild. Covering an area of 2 hectares, Shaanxi Crested Ibis Research Center was established and it has saved and rescued 29 fledgings (14 survived) and  bred 97 Crested Ibises artificially, which was a prominent contribution in saving this endangered species. On August 9, 2005, the inhabitation area of Crested Ibis in Hanzhong was approved by the State Council to be a national-level nature reserve. Thanks to the implementation of a conservation plan and breeding efforts, the total population of Crested Ibis is about  2000, and an expedition team even witnessed them in Qinling Mountain area. In May of 2010, the reintroduced Rested Ibis which was in other places bred 3 fledgings. This signified the first success of the bewildering Crested Ibis in other sites which happened since 2007, according to a specialist at Shaanxi Provincial forestry department.