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Southern Bald Ibis Geronticus calvus
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
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This species is listed as Vulnerable because it has a small population which is believed to be declining owing to habitat loss and degradation, with current rates of habitat loss leading to the projection of rapid population declines in the future.

Taxonomic source(s)
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.

78 cm. Large, glossy blue-black ibis. Adult has bald red head with white face. Long, red, decurved bill. Red legs and feet. Coppery patches on forewings. Wings long and elongated in flight, and beat rapidly in between gliding. Immature matt black, lacking any colour on head and bill. Similar spp. Smaller Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus has chestnut head. Voice Distinctive, high-pitched, turkey-like keeaaw-klaup-klaup. Hints Gregarious. Forages in flocks of up to 50 individuals.

Distribution and population
Geronticus calvus is restricted to Lesotho, north-east South Africa and west Swaziland. The core range lies in the north-eastern Free State, Mpumalanga and the KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg. It was formerly widespread in the Eastern Cape and there is evidence that it is starting to recolonize the area from Lesotho (Boshoff and van Niekerk 2007). In South Africa, there are over 1,500 breeding pairs at over 100 colonies, although c.25% of the breeding population occurs at just five colonies. In Swaziland, there are three main breeding colonies, supporting at least 10 pairs each, and a total population of c.110 birds. In Lesotho, the population, with several known breeding colonies, is probably in the low thousands. South African populations may have increased between the late 1960s and the early 1980s, but the Lesotho population may be declining. It has been suggested that 8,000-10,000 birds (including 2,000 breeding pairs) exist (Barnes 2000).

Population justification
Barnes (2000) estimated a total population of 8,000-10,000 birds (including 2,000 breeding pairs i.e. 4,000 mature individuals).

Trend justification
South African populations may have increased between the late 1960s and the early 1980s, but the Lesotho population may be declining. Overall, the species's population is suspected to have decreased at a moderate rate because of habitat loss and degradation. Rapid population declines are projected to occur in the future if current rates of habitat loss continue.

It prefers high rainfall (>700 mm p.a.), sour and alpine grasslands, characterised by an absence of trees and a short, dense grass sward. It also occurs in lightly wooded and relatively arid country. It forages preferentially on recently burned ground, also using unburnt natural grassland, cultivated pastures, reaped maize fields and ploughed areas. It has a varied diet, mainly consisting of insects and other terrestrial invertebrates. It has high nesting success on safe, undisturbed cliffs.

Threats include human interference with breeding colonies and habitat loss through commercial afforestation, intensive crop farming, open-cast mining, acid rain and dense human settlement. Pesticide contamination is a potential threat as is exploitation for traditional medicinal/ceremonial purposes in Lesotho. Several predatory bird species have been recorded raiding colonies for adults and young. The species's habit of using electricity pylons as roost sites in certain areas results in some mortality from collisions with powerlines (van Rooyen 2005).

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix II. It has full legal protection in South Africa where it breeds in several protected areas. In Swaziland, Malolotja Nature Reserve holds a breeding colony. In Lesotho, it is recorded from Setlabathebe National Park. Roosts on pylons result in both the mortality of some birds and faults in powerlines, thus it has been recommended that bird guards be installed on the most affected pylons and anti-collision devices be fitted to the earth wire near roost sites (van Rooyen 2005). Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct surveys to assess its status in Lesotho. Initiate range-wide monitoring to help clarify population trends. Protect as many of the larger breeding colonies and feeding areas as possible. Provide insentives for adopting ibis-favourable farming practices. Assess the impact of fitting bird guards and anti-collision devices to powerlines.

ARKive. 2007. Southern bald ibis (Geronticus calvus). web page. Available at: (Accessed: 01/08/2013).

Barnes, K. N. 2000. The Eskom Red Data Book of birds of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg.

Boshoff, A. and van Niekerk, M. 2007. Is the Southern Bald Ibis Geronticus calvus re-colonising the North-eastern Cape, South Africa? Bee-eater 58(4): 62-64.

IUCN. 2015. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015-4. Available at: (Accessed: 19 November 2015).

van Rooyen, C. 2005. Bald Ibis: interactions with powerlines. Endangered Wildlife 54: 47-48.

Further web sources of information
Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

View photos and videos and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Ekstrom, J., Pilgrim, J., Shutes, S., Taylor, J., Allinson, T & Ashpole, J

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Geronticus calvus. Downloaded from on 21/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 21/10/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Southern bald ibis (Geronticus calvus) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Vulnerable
Family Threskiornithidae (Ibises, Spoonbills)
Species name author (Boddaert, 1783)
Population size 4000 mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 207,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species
- Projected distributions under climate change