How do I recognize it?
The White-faced Ibis (Plegadis chihi) is an attractive, large long-legged wader. Key distinguishing features are the white line around its red facial skin (during breeding), and a distinct long decurved (down-curved) bill. It uses its well-equipped bill to probe different depths in the water looking for aquatic invertebrates and insects as its main food source.
Similar to a heron at first glance, both sexes measure around 46-56cm in length, with long dark legs and an overall dark maroon body. In the right light, you can catch the striking purple iridescent, black, brown, and green colours on the Ibises body. Very similar in appearance and habits, the White-faced and Glossy Ibis (rare in Manitoba) can usually be distinguished only by slight differences in colouring of the face and legs and by the red eye of White-faced ibis (versus brown in Glossy).
Does it migrate?
The White-faced Ibis migrates north throughout much of western North America. The White-faced Ibises wintering range occurs from the southern United States down to Central America. The species is locally common in the western United States before it overwinters in large flocks in Mexico, western Louisiana, and eastern Texas. There are also some resident populations in the southern United States, Mexico, and South America, but for the majority the grand migration occurs twice a year for this species. Their migration range seemingly expanding a bit more north (i.e. into Manitoba) throughout time.
Where does it live?
When the White-faced Ibis is not migrating, their overall breeding range covers much of western North America, from the extreme south of the Prairie Provinces down to southern Mexico. Interestingly, North Dakota and the extreme south part of Manitoba show a recent expansion of the White-faced Ibises northeastern breeding range limit! This has allowed Manitobans opportunities to see the species in their own province in recent years.
The White-faced Ibis inhabits primarily freshwater wetlands, especially cattail and bulrush marshes specifically. It can also be seen feeding in flooded hay meadows, agricultural fields, and estuarine wetlands throughout their range. This species is also known to be a colonial nester, where it breeds on the ground together in marshes predominantly.
Where can I see it?
Known as an occasional visitor to Manitoba, the Ibis can most likely be found in the southwestern part of the province, especially at Whitewater Lake and the Oak-Plum Lakes. White-faced Ibis numbers have increased at Whitewater Lake gradually since the first nests were discovered and since hte first nesting was recorded in 2006. In September 2016, as many as 550 birds were seen departing an area in the southwest corner of the Whitewater Lake. Although it's less common, the Ibis may also be seen outside of Winnipeg at viable large marshes with suitable water levels during migration.
The White-faced Ibis is not a listed species (provincially or federally), and is currently classified as low concern. They do however receive some protection under The Migratory Bird Act Treaty as most migratory bird species do.
PHOTOS BY CHRISTIAN ARTUSO