The Crested ibis is a large white-plumaged wading bird of pine forests. Its head is partially bare, showing red skin, and it has a dense crest of white plumes on the nape. Crested ibises were historically hunted for their beautiful feathers and at one time, they were widespread in Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan, and Russia. However, now these birds have disappeared from most of their former range.
Crested ibises are now found only in Shaanxi province of China. They live in forests with tall trees where they can nest and roost, and feed in wetlands, river banks, reservoirs or agricultural land.
Crested ibises are social birds and are often seen in flocks, however, during the breeding season they become solitary and very territorial. When threatened or defending their nest from intruders ibises will flap their wings, extend their head, stretch-and-snap, and perform pursuit flight displays. These are diurnal (active during the day) birds that spend daylight hours resting, preening or walking and wading along shores searching for prey. Crested ibises are generally silent but if excited they will make a series of ‘gak-gak-gak’ calls. To communicate with each other or before taking off they will emit a low ‘gak’.
Crested ibises are monogamous forming pairs that stay together throughout the year. They breed from February till June and produce one clutch per season. Crested ibises make their nests at the tops of trees on hills usually overlooking their habitat. The female lays 3 to 4 eggs, which are incubated within 28 days by both parents. The chicks are altricial; they are hatched helpless with light gray down and orange-red legs. They grow rapidly and around one month later are able to walk on branches around the nest. The young fledge at 45 days of age and become reproductively mature when they are 2-4 years old.
Due to ongoing habitat loss, small population size, limited range, winter starvation and persecution in the last century brought this endangered species to the brink of extinction. Environmental conditions are also crucial for Crested ibises captive breeding success, as stress caused by unsuitable environments has resulted in parents killing and discarding chicks.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total Asian crested ibis population size is around 500 individuals, equivalent to around 330 mature individuals. According to the Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) resource, the total population size of the species is 1,000 individuals including 480 adults. Currently, Asian crested ibises are classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List, but their numbers today are increasing.