The New International Encyclopædia/Ibis
IBIS (Lat. ibis, Gk. ῖβις, of Egyptian origin). A stork-like bird of the family Ibidæ. The bill is long, slender, curved, thick at the base, the point rather obtuse, the upper mandible deeply grooved throughout its length. The face, and generally the greater part of the head, and sometimes even the neck, are destitute of feathers, at least in adult birds. The neck is long. The legs are rather long, naked above the tarsal joint, with three partially united toes in front, and one behind; the wings are moderately long; the tail is very short. The family is usually ranked with the storks in the same order as the herons, but there are important points in which the ibises approach the curlews. The sacred ibis, or Egyptian ibis (Ibis Æthiopica), is an African bird, 2½ feet in length, although the body is little larger than that of a common fowl. The glossy ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) is a smaller species, also African, but migrating northward into Continental Europe, and occasionally seen in Great Britain. It occurs in the tropical and subtropical parts of all the world, but is quite uncommon in North America. In the Southwestern United States it is replaced by the white-faced glossy ibis (Plegadis guarauna), a species in which the adults have the region about the base of the bill white. The habits of both species resemble those of the sacred ibis. The color is black, varied with reddish brown, and exhibiting fine purple and green reflections. There are no loose pendent feathers. The white ibis (Guara alba) a species with pure white plumage, abounds on the coasts of Florida, and is locally abundant as far north as South Carolina and southern Illinois. Audubon saw multitudes on a low islet, and counted 47 nests on a single tree. (For its egg, see Colored Plate under Egg.) The scarlet ibis (Ibis ruber) is a tropical American species, remarkable for its brilliant plumage, which is scarlet, with the tips of a few outer jirimaries glossy black. The straw-necked ibis (Carphibis spinicollis) is a large Australian bird of fine plumage, remarkable for stiff, naked, yellow feather-shafts on the neck and throat, which look extraordinarily like bits of straw. The bird known in the Southern United States as ‘wood-ibis’ is not an ibis at all, but a stork (q.v.).
The sacred ibis, one of the birds worshiped by the ancient Egyptians, and called by them hab or hib, and by the modern Egyptians abu-Hannes (i.e. Father John), is a bird with long beak and legs, and is covered with black and white plumage. It was supposed, from the color of its feathers, to symbolize the light and shade of the moon, its body to represent the heart; its legs described a triangle, and with its beak it performed a medical operation; from all which esoterical ideas it was the avatar of the god Thoth or Hermes (see Mercury), who escaped in that shape the pursuit of Typhon, as the hawk was that of Ra, or Horus, the sun. Its feathers were supposed to scare, and even kill, the crocodile. It appeared in Egypt at the rise, and disappeared at the inundation of the Nile, and was thought at that time to deliver Egypt from the winged and other serpents which came from Arabia in certain narrow passes. As it did not make its nest in Egypt, it was thought to be self engendering, and to lay eggs for a lunar month. According to some, the basilisk was engendered by it. It was celebrated for its purity, and only drank from the purest water, and the most strict of the priesthood only drank of the pools where it had been seen; besides which, it was fabled to entertain the most invincible love of Egypt, and to die of self-starvation if transported elsewhere. Its flesh was thought to be incorruptible after death, and to kill it was punishable with death. Ibises were kept in the temples, and unmolested in the neighborhood of cities. After death they were mummied, and there is no animal of which so many remains have been found at Thebes, Memphis, Hermopolis Magna, or Eshmun, and at Ibin or Iheum, 14 miles north of the latter place. They are made up into a conical shape, the wings flat, the legs bent back to the breast, the head placed on the left side, and the beak under the tail. They were prepared as other mummies, and wrapped up in linen bandages, which are sometimes plaited in patterns externally. At Thebes they are found in linen bandages only; at Hermopolis, well preserved in wooden or stone boxes of oblong form, sometimes in form of the bird itself, or the god Thoth; at Memphis, in conical sugar-loaf-shaped red earthenware jars, the tail downward, the cover of convex form, cemented by lime. There appear to be two sorts of embalmed ‘ibises’—a smaller one of the size of a rail, very black, and the other black and white. The former is not an ibis at all, but some smaller wading bird. The last is usually found with its eggs, and with its food in its stomach. By the Jews it was held to be an unclean bird. Consult: Wilkinson, Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians (New York, 1879); Pettigrew, History of Egyptian Mummies (London, 1840).