, Volume 8, Issue 6, pp 1381-1388
Date: 11 May 2006

Behavioural Flexibility and Numerous Potential Sources of Introduction for the Sacred Ibis: Causes of Concern in Western Europe?

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In order to examine the dynamics and potential impact of the recently introduced sacred ibis Threskiornis aethiopicus, we review the published and unpublished data and report new information on its distribution in West European countries and particularly in France. This species, which escaped from zoos during the 1990s, is well established and has spread on the Atlantic coast and in Mediterranean region of France, with a mid-winter population reaching ca. 3200 individuals in winter 2004–2005 and ca. 1100 breeding pairs in spring 2005. The species has also escaped from zoological parks in Belgium, Germany, Spain, Italy and Portugal, and feral populations are established in Piedmont (Italy) and in the Canary Islands (Spain). The species dispersing ability has led to observations over hundreds of kilometres from the established colonies. We identify that in temperate habitats the sacred ibis shows a behavioural flexibility similar to that known in its tropical native range, including a large diet spectrum (insects, molluscs, refuse, bird eggs, etc.) and an ability to use various habitats (meadows, rubbish dumps, marshes, reedbeds, seashore, ploughed fields, etc.). This plasticity, the fact that predation by ibises is observed on nests of threatened bird species, and the number of potential sources of ibis in Europe (zoos) are causes of concern suggesting that precautionary measures should be taken to prevent the spread of this new alien species.