Bird Symbols and the Ibis

By Dave Hanks

Birds have played a large part in ancient lore. The plains Indians decorated their pipes: red feathers for war, or white feathers for peace. New England settlers thought the nighttime call of the Whip-poor-Will was the voice of a lost soul and forecasted death to someone. The hearing or sighting of certain species portended good or evil: an eagle for freedom, a dove for peace, a loon for madness, a raven was seen in both lights, and to see one magpie meant sorrow, but seeing two at once would result in joy.

Owls have especially caused much superstition. The wearing of an owl’s eye around the neck would keep witches away, or to actually eat the eye would improve one’s vision. The appearance of certain species foretold the coming of various weather phenomena.

The Egyptians held the ibis to be sacred – so sacred that ibis were embalmed, wrapped in cloth, and placed in tombs along with deceased royalty. Ibis are gregarious, long-legged waders, with long, slender, downward curving bills used for probing wetlands. There are 33 species of ibis in the world. Three types are native to the USA: White-Faced Ibis, Glossy Ibis, and White Ibis. Glossy Ibis and White Ibis are found in coastal salt water marshes. Glossy Ibis are dark also, but their dark feathers are more iridescent than the White-Faced plumage. White Ibis are larger and very distinctive. White Ibis populations have been counted in colonies of 600.000 to 800,000 individuals

White-Faced Ibis are fairly common in our general area. They are dark birds, with a narrow strip of white next to their beak that surrounds their eye. We often see them in large groups – either overhead or in wet meadows. The Bear River Bird Refuge by Brigham City, Utah is home to a large population of these birds.

(A White-Faced Ibis stalking and probing for prey at the Bear River Refuge)