5 Facts On The Intriguing Southern Bald Ibis – The Bald Old Man

The Southern Bald Ibis is closely related to the aptly named Northern Bald Ibis, and both belong to the Genus Geronticus, though the Northern Bald Ibis can be found as far North as the German Alps.

This species also has another name that stems more from its looks, ‘the bald old man’ which may seem disrespectful to some but it surely fits the bird.

Other than its more polarising looks, the Southern Bald Ibis is a fascinating bird with 5 very cool facts. Let’s take a dive into the world of the Southern Bald Ibis and get to know them better.

1. The Bald Ibis is referred to as the bald old man.

The scientific name of the Southern Bald Ibis is ‘Geronticus Calvus’, with the word geronticus being a Greek word meaning old man which is in reference to their bald heads.

The Southern Bald Ibis shares the genus Geronticus with another bald ibis species, the Northern Bald Ibis. Well, how do they look to earn such a unique nickname?

The head which is their identifying feature is featherless, wrinkled and white in colour. On top of this bald head is a small red crown running from the top of the head to the base of the beak.

Their beaks, just like other ibis species are long, narrow, curved downwards and red in colour and their eyes are a shade of orange-red. At the back of the head and the upper neck, the body plumage begins which is an iridescent dark green with flashes of other colours such as bronze, violet and green which are particularly visible on the wing feathers.

These birds are of medium build as they measure between 70 and 80 cm (28 and 31 in) in length, with a wingspan of between 125 and 135 cm (49 and 53 in), weighing an average of 1.0 -1.3 kg (35 – 46 oz).

Males and females look alike, but on closer inspection, you’ll find the females to be smaller with the males also having longer bills. Juvenile southern bald ibises are duller than their adult counterparts lacking iridescent colours, instead, their feathers are a dull grey.

Juveniles are duller than adults so they may better blend in with their surroundings and escape predators.

2. The Southern Ibis can only be found in the Eastern region of South Africa.

This bird has a very restricted range, as it can only be found in the mountainous and hilly landscapes of the Eastern region of South Africa.

The species prefers highland mesic grasslands (Mesic grasslands are grasslands that have a constant supply of moisture, with examples being riparian areas along streams, rivers, ponds and the edge of lakes)

Constantly and well-irrigated lands can also develop to become mesic landscapes, between 1200 and 1800 m (3937 and 5905 ft) above sea level, well-watered agricultural lands and rough rocky terrain.

They can be found in Mpumalanga, North Eastern Free-State and the parts of the Drakensberg found in Kwa Zulu Natal. They can also be found in the highland grasslands that extend into Swaziland and Lesotho from Kwa Zulu Natal.

the Southern Bald Ibis

3. They Forage in Groups Of Up To 100 Individuals.

Southern Bald Ibises are social birds and will form large groups of between 50 and 100 individuals as they go searching for food. In these large groups, don’t expect them to be noisy as they are relatively quiet birds.

However, when vocalising, they make a weak gobbling-like sound, that closely resembles that of a turkey. This gobbling sound has led to them being referenced as, ‘Wilde-Kalkoen’ which is in Afrikaans, and when translated to English, it means wild turkey.

On the ground, they are relatively quiet but are quite active and noisy in flight and during the breeding season.

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4. Their Main Food is the Caterpillar phase of the Maize Stalk Borer.

The Southern Bald Ibis is an insectivore with its diet consisting mainly of insects, supplemented with other invertebrates. The main component of its diet is the caterpillar phase of the maize stalk borer ( Busseola Fusca).

The birds make use of a fast walking technique as they feed, which leads to them avoiding places with tall grasses. In such locations, the birds will be hindered by the long grass stalks and adopt a slow walk feeding method. Another reason they generally avoid feeding in long grasses is that these grasslands may be hiding predators, and the Southern bald Ibis will become the hunted instead of the hunter.

They forage in a variety of locations ranging from burnt grasslands, overgrazed pastures and harvested maize fields. Just like the common chicken, the Southern Bald Ibis will continuously peck and probe the ground for any insects roaming around carelessly. They will also turn over animal faeces in search of insects such as beetles, caterpillars, snails, and worms. But they will also feed on small vertebrates such as frogs, birds and rodents.

As they have a particular liking for the maize borer worm, they will be found in maize fields, particularly after the harvesting periods between the months of July and August.

After the harvest period, the bird will alternate feeding on maize fields, burnt grasslands and grazed pastures. Their main feeding grounds which are burnt grasslands are known as sour. These areas are burnt in a cycle of 1 to 3 years to clear excess foliage and as a result, have low nutrients.

5. They Build Their Nests on Ledges And Cliffs.

The Southern Bald Ibis builds their nests on open ledges and cliffs preferably close to or above water, and in large colonies. The nests are made of grasses and sticks and built on relatively flat grounds.

The breeding season begins from July to October and the females lay between 1 and 3 eggs, with the incubation period taking between 27 and 31 days. Once hatched, the chicks will spend the first 7 days in the nest being fed by their parents through regurgitation. The chicks are able to leave the nest and wander around after 35 days, and gain the ability of flight after 40 days.

Predation of chicks has been recorded by the Cape Eagle Owl, Pied Crow, White Necked Raven, Jackal Buzzard, and Verreaux’s Eagle.

During the particularly heavy rainy seasons when the nesting sites experience flooding events, significant breeding failures occur when chicks drown or the nests are washed out to sea.

Conservation Status of the Southern Bald Ibis.

The Southern Bald Ibis is listed as vulnerable by the IUCN. As of 2020, there were about 6600 individual birds ( this is both adults and juvenile birds), of which about 3300 birds are breeding adults.

The trend for these birds has been a steady decline in population of about 14.1% of the breeding adults over the last 25 years. This decline in numbers is due to various threats and pressures with the major reasons being habitat loss, habitat degradation and fragmentation.

This habitat loss is a result of 80 developments such as intensive farming, open cast mining, invasive alien encroachment, afforestation, decreasing wetland habitat, and acid mine water contamination.

The majority of Breeding sites are on privately owned land instead of protected state land. This puts the management and protection of a large proportion of the birds on these land owners, which something may not always fall in with their interests.

Another threat facing these birds is the illegal harvesting of their chicks and eggs for consumption and use for ceremonial purposes and traditional reasons by the local community. They are also hunted for their meat by the locals who want to supplement their diet.

FAQS on the Southern Bald Ibis

Here are some more questions that you might have on this bird

  1. What is the difference between the Southern Bald Ibis and the Hadada ibis?

The Hadada Ibis and the Southern Bald Ibis are quite different. The first thing is the bald wrinkled face and head of the bald ibis since the Hadada ibis’ head isn’t bald and its beak is black, while its face is a dark grey. Although the body plumage might look alike the Hadada ibis also has a very loud “haa-haa-haa-de-da” call that gives it its name.

2. What is the lifespan of Southern Bald Ibis?

In the wild, the Southern Bald Ibis has been known to live for between 10 and 15 years, while in captivity they can reach a maximum of 30 years.

3. What is a group of Ibis called?

A group of ibis birds is called a stand or a congregation, and in flight, a wedge.

4. Are Southern Bald Ibis beneficial?

Due to their diet majorly consisting of the caterpillar phase of the Maize Borer worm, these birds are quite beneficial to maize farmers.

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My Final Conclusion.

I hope that you enjoyed this article on the Southern Bald Ibis and if you have any more questions on the topic, please feel free to ask them down below in the comment section.

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I wish you happy travels or birdwatching!

Kind regards,


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4 thoughts on “5 Facts On The Intriguing Southern Bald Ibis – The Bald Old Man”

  1. Wow! Amazing birds! Where I live the only bird that even remotely resembles the southern bald Ibis are turkey vultures. It’s sad that there are so few left. It seems that we are losing species every day.
    Are there organized efforts to save them or to protect their native habitat from being developed and destroyed further? 

    • Hello Nicole!

      I honestly don’t know if any efforts are made to save these species from exctintion, I hope so! But I’m afraid for it, as I haven’t seen any during my whole month of staying in the exact region where this bird should be. 🙁

  2. I wonder why the Southern Bald Ibis birds breeding grounds are not protected better by moving their breeding grounds to protected land. They are at-risk after all. They are an interesting-looking species that I think have a funny nickname. Maybe they aren’t the prettiest of birds, but would be a nice sight to see when I visit Africa.

    • Hi Jason!

      I’m not quite sure how you would move the breeding grounds from bird species to a protected area, as they are birds and go where they want to go? 😉

      Thanks for your comment and I hope you get to visit Africa soon!



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