The Hadeda ibis (Bostrychia hagedash) is an ibis native to Sub-Saharan Africa. It is named for its loud three to four-note calls uttered in flight, especially in the mornings and evenings when they fly out or return to their roost trees. Although not as dependent on water as some ibises, they are found near wetlands and often live in close proximity to humans, foraging in cultivated land and gardens. A medium-sized ibis with stout legs and a typical down-curved bill, the wing coverts are iridescent with a green or purple sheen. They are non-migratory but are known to make nomadic movements in response to rain, particularly during droughts. Their ranges in southern Africa have increased with an increase in tree cover and irrigation in human-altered habitats.
The hadeda is a large (about 76 cm (30 in) long), grey-to-partly brown species of ibis. Males and females are alike in plumage. It has a narrow, white, roughly horizontal stripe across its cheeks. This is sometimes called the “mustache,” though it does not reach the mouth corners. The plumage over the wings has an iridescent purple sheen produced by optical microstructures within the feathers. The bird has blackish legs and a large grey-to-black bill, but during the breeding season, it has a red culmen on the basal half of the upper mandible. The upper surfaces of the toes are of a similar red during the onset of breeding. The powerful, broad wings enable quick take-offs and easy maneuvering through dense tree cover.
It has an extremely loud and distinctive “haa-haa-haa-de-dah” call—hence the onomatopoetic name. The call is often heard when the birds are flying or are startled or when the birds communicate socially, for example, early in the morning in residential suburbs. While roosting, they produce a single loud “haaaa.” When foraging, their contact call is a low growl similar to a young puppy’s.
Hadeda ibises roost in groups on trees. They fly out in the mornings with loud calls and return in the evenings. Hadeda feeds on insects, millipedes, and earthworms, using their long scimitar-like bill to probe soft soil. They also eat larger insects, such as the Parktown prawn, and also spiders, and small lizards. These birds also feed readily on snails and often clear garden beds around residential homes. They are particularly welcomed on bowling and golf greens because they are assiduous in extracting larvae of moths and beetles that feed on the roots of the grass.
Flying in South Africa
Like other ibis species, including spoonbills, and some other probing feeders, such as sanderling and kiwi, hadeda has sensory pits around the tips of their bills. In their foraging for unseen prey, such as shallow subterranean larvae, the pits enable them to locate feeding insects and earthworms.
Hadeda has become very common in many African cities and tolerates the closeness of humans. They can judge the direction of the gaze of humans and the speed of approach to decide their escape strategies. Hadeda ibises have been involved in several bird hits at airports in Kenya and South Africa.
Hadeda is monogamous, and pair bonds are thought to persist throughout the year. Breeding begins after the rains. In the Cape Province, they breed mainly from October to November. The nest is a platform of twigs placed in a major branch of a large tree, typically in a fork, and unlike most ibis species, despite their moderately gregarious nature, they do not nest in groups. Both parents take part in incubating the clutch of three to four eggs. Incubation takes about 26 days. The parents feed the young by regurgitating food. Many young birds die by falling off the nest. The survivors fledge in about 33 days.
The calls of Hadeda ibises are considered a sign of rain in parts of Lesotho. The Xhosa people use the name ing’ang’ane or ingagane which means black ibis, as opposed to the white sacred ibis. The name in many African languages is onomatopoeic.
It is known as Zililili in Chewa, Chinawa in Chiyao, Chihaha or Mwanawawa in Tumbuka, and Mwalala in Khonde. Colonial hunters considered it a good bird for eating.
The Bantu people of Uganda have an origin story where man and wife starved themselves during a drought while letting their children eat whatever little they had. The man and his wife were then turned into ibises that go by the name of Mpabaana.
In Zululand, the name ingqangqamathumba indicates that anyone who mocks the bird will break out in abscesses. When they fly continually, they are said to foretell a rich harvest that year. The saying utahthisele amathole eng’ang’ane which means “he has taken the hadeda’s nestlings,” is an idiom used to indicate that someone has offended a vindictive man and that he would have to be careful
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