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Sri Lanka: Glossy Ibis - Are they breeding again in our lands?

Before their extinction from Sri Lanka, they were abundant in the extreme north and often seen on the tidal flats near the Jaffna town and at the mouth of the lake.

by J.M.N.J. Jayathilake

Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) is a rare migrant in Sri Lanka; a breeding inhabitant in tank districts about 148 years back. According to the latest record of Mr. Ajith Gunathunga and his wildlife conservation team, a flock of Glossy Ibises that migrated in early of 2020 has started to breed again in Bundala national park. It says that still we are fortunate to provide them suitable breeding grounds to facilitate their breeding purposes.

Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus
Glossy Ibis is a mid- sized wading bird in the subfamily Threskiornithinae of the family Threskiornithidae (order Ciconiiformes), which also includes the spoonbills. They are widespread in warm regions of Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Atlantic and Caribbean regions of the Americas.

The stunning colour pattern is unique to them. At a close look, we can observe plumage rich chestnut in breeding season, wings glossy greenish, eyes brown. The bare face is outlined by a very thin line of white. Further, Adults are mostly morphologically distinguished by dark iridescent green and reddish tones. These birds occur in small flocks, both at nesting colonies and when foraging. Moreover, they favor wetland environments with shallow water or exposed mud, therefore they make their winter migrations to lowland marshlands, paddy fields, tanks and lagoons in Sri Lanka. Glossy Ibis forage and feed by lowering the bill into water, mud, or soil, nodding head side to side to feel for prey. Usually, they feed on worms, crustaceans, aquatic insects, frogs and other small animals such as water leeches. Particularly, their breeding season exists from March to July and it builds small nests with sticks on trees near water commonly as colonies when they breed.

Before their extinction from Sri Lanka, they were abundant in the extreme north and often seen on the tidal flats near the Jaffna town and at the mouth of the lake. On the eastern- north and north-western part of the island, it inhabited shores of lagoons and estuaries. They were found in Hambantota district as well, near the salterns and vicinity of tanks. In March 1872, W.V. Legge found a breeding colony of about eight pairs in association with Open-billed storks at Uduwila near Tissamaharama in a small tank bed. Later it became extinct in the island towards the end of 19th century. After a long silence, it was recorded time to time in few locations in the southern part of the country such as Kalametiya, Bellanwila-Attidiya sanctuary, Dehiwela paddy fields, only as migrants during the winter migration season and other times of the year too. On the other hand, Glossy Ibis has not been reported from wetland areas of Jaffna peninsula after 1968, but further observations are required to confirm this matter, especially in the areas with similar habitats in Jaffna peninsula.

Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus )
Currently, wading birds face many challenges which can be a great impact on their distribution and existence. Habitat loss through human development is one of the major threats to wading birds. In addition to predators, natural threats including climate changes such as storms and droughts can be some risk factors to their habitats and their youngers.

Nevertheless, the true cause behind the loss of former inhabitant Glossy Ibises in Sri Lanka is still not known. However, we believe that protecting the natural environment as it is will save many wild lives in our little paradise. Last but not least, being sensible about the creatures around us and obeying to conservation rules are the prime needs every time and all the time.

The writer is a graduate of Faculty of Applied Sciences, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Sri Lanka. She can be reached at nishanijayanika1@gmail.com

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