Unmistakable and highly sociable, the black-faced ibis (Theristicus melanopis) has a strong presence in the future Patagonia National Park; during spring and summer hardly a day goes by without seeing a large colony of these birds. A relative of the heron, the black-faced ibis stands out with its long, thin and curved bill. While they are often seen moving to and from roosting sites on the ground, they can also be spotted flying at high altitudes.
Esthetically, the black-faced ibis has a somewhat shabby-elegant look: The legs are thin and dark pink, the face, neck and breast a golden/ochre hue. In a stark contrast to the top half, their under parts and tail are black, the wings light gray and wide in breadth. Across the upper breast runs a grey band like a sash or winter scarf. And, as the name suggests, the black-faced ibis is also characterized by black facial skin that surrounds its red eyes.
The black-faced ibis consist of two subspecies: branickii (found in the highlands of Peru, Ecuador, northern Chile and north-west Bolivia) where it lives year-round. The second, melanopis, is found in southern Chile and Argentina and they migrate in the non-breeding season to the Argentine pampas. Down south, you’ll most likely find the melanopis, slightly different in appearance with a longer beak and a black caruncle. Smallish but robust, it measures between 29-30 inches and tend to live in open areas, cultivated fields and damp ground near bodies of freshwater.
Amongst their large colonies, the black-faced ibis is a gregarious (and noisy!) creature; it’s not uncommon to find them nesting in mixed colonies with different aquatic birds. When it comes to mating, they are monogamous and their nests are usually located in tall trees and cliffs. Breeding is a mutual partnership—both sexes build the nest and after the female lays between 2-3 eggs, both parents incubate the eggs (for duration of one month).
Here at the future park, one is often startled out of a deep thought (or woken up) by their loud call, a distinctly metallic, bugle like sound. If not heard, they are often seen walking slowly and methodically, probing for food in the ground with their long beaks, searching for insects, worms, amphibians and occasionally, small rodents and birds. The black-faced ibis is a well-known and integral part of the park’s fauna and we hope it will continue to be for generations to come.