Breeding success for very rare birds

Welcome to Animal Magic! This is the first in a series of fortnightly columns where we take an in-depth look at some of Tilgate Nature Centre’s popular, and less well known, animal residents.

Nature centre manager Simon Woodard writes: This week we explore the world of the Northern Bald Ibis and explain why we are so proud to have them.

jpco 22-5-13 Simon Woodard and baby Bald Ibis at Tilgate Nature centre (Pic by Jon Rigby)

jpco 22-5-13 Simon Woodard and baby Bald Ibis at Tilgate Nature centre (Pic by Jon Rigby)

n Northern Bald Ibis (Geronticus eremita)


Eight Northern Bald Ibis adults and three chicks call Tilgate Nature Centre home.

These birds – which are also known as Waldrapps – are distinctive creatures with glossy black feathers that have hints of green and violet, and a long curved beak which is excellent for finding food in the ground and in rocky crevices.

Their most noticeable feature is a bald, red face and head.

During breeding season the red colour brightens considerably as the birds attempt to attract a mate.


In the wild, Northern Bald Ibis’ are found in rocky habitats and usually near water, so our birds have boulders, a stream and a pond in their enclosure.

Visitors can see the birds digging in the ground with their long beaks, preening each other and even sunbathing with their wings outstretched.


We are especially proud to have these birds, as the species is critically endangered.

They were once widespread throughout the Middle East, Europe and Africa but there are now fewer than 1,000 birds in the wild – with the main population in Morocco.

Tilgate Nature Centre welcomed its first pair of Northern Bald Ibis’ in 1996 as part of a European breeding programme, which has seen birds bred here joining new colonies across Britain.

The future

We hadn’t bred these birds for a few years, but things have improved since we welcomed three young male birds from Harewood House in Leeds in 2011; and we have recently celebrated the hatching of two nests of chicks.

The chicks will remain in the nest for seven weeks and won’t develop their distinctive red heads until they are two years old.

The parents take turns sitting on the eggs and feeding their chicks.