The only viable wild population of Northern Bald Ibis (Geronticus eremita) exists in Morocco. The tiny wild population in Palmyra desert, Syria is unfortunately on the verge of extinction. There is also a semi-wild population in Turkey.
In Europe, there are two reintroduction projects: one in the Alps (Waldrapp Project), and another in Andalusia, Spain (Projecto Eremita). The main goal of the latter project, led by Jerez Zoo and the Government of Andalusia, is to obtain a sedentary, stable and self-sufficient population of Northern Bald Ibis in southern Spain.
Since the start of Proyecto Eremita until 2015 only two Northern Bald Ibis are known to migrate to Morocco (López et al. 2015):
– One bird observed in the Middle Atlas in 2006 by Lahcen Chillasse, and
– Another bird observed at Merja Bergha near Larache on the Atlantic coast in May 2007 by Todor ‘Teo’ Todorov (photo below).
In autumn 2016, an unprecedented numbers of Northern Bald Ibis were observed crossing the Strait to Morocco, these include:
- A flock of 11 birds observed crossing the Strait from Spain on 23 September 2016. “It took barely 12 minutes for them to reach the African coast” said Yeray Seminario who observed them. All 11 birds were colour-ringed.
- A flock of 6 birds observed arriving to the Moroccan coast from Europe on 2 November 2016 by Juan Ramírez Román and Antonio Román Muñoz. The observers, who visited the area to watch vulture migration, were located between Tanger-Med port and Punta Cires when they saw the Bald Ibises.
- Three flocks totalling 36 birds were counted by field-ecologists and volunteers of Fundación Migres in autumn 2016 (EFE Verde 2016). Edit: that total includes also the 6-bird flock cited above, they were observed crossing the Strait from Tarifa by Alejandro Onrubia (see the reference in update 3). The 11-bird flock is not included in that total, their disappearance from Proyecto Eremita was verified earlier by the project coordinator (see update 1 below).
With these movements, it would be interesting to see their (short and long-term) impact on the reintroduction project in Andalusia. Also, it would have been good if some birds were satellite-tracked, so we could learn more about their movements in Morocco.
It should also be noted that although the Moroccan population of Northern Bald Ibis is generally sedentary, some birds disperse over long distances both south and north of the breeding areas (e.g. 2 birds photographed at Larache in spring 2016, some 650 Km north of the breeding sites).
EFE Verde, 2016. La migración de aves por el Estrecho bate récord. Los observadores de la Fundación Migres han censado el paso de 466.000 aves. Published: 6 November 2016.
López, J. M., Quevedo, M. A., Sánchez, I., Rodríguez, B., Gimeno, D. & Aguilera, E. 2015. Crónica de la reintroducción del Ibis eremita en Andalucía. Quercus (349): 14–23.
José Manuel López Vázquez, the coordinator of the reintroduction program in Andalusia, said in a email that the project verified the disappearance of the 11-bird flock but couldn’t verify the disappearance of more birds. He also said that Northern Bald Ibis fly regularly over coastal areas of Tarifa near the bird observatories. These birds sometimes cross the coast lines and appear as they are heading to Morocco, but some of them return back to Spain at other places. He shared with me unpublished maps showing satellite-tracked birds in the open sea but were not crossing the Strait. More details can be added when available. Edit: table 1 in Bowden et al. (2018) summarises all sightings of Northern Bald Ibis by the Migres Foundation (both those who crossed the Strait, and those who didn’t).
A short note describing the observation of the 6-bird flock crossing the the Strait of Gibraltar just published in the journal Oryx (March 2017):
Muñoz, A.-R. & Ramírez, J. 2017. Reintroduced Northern Bald Ibises from Spain reach Morocco. Oryx 51: 204–205. doi: 10.1017/S0030605318000479
In a ‘Conservation news’ note published in July 2018, Bowden and his co-authors showed that the Northern Bald Ibis crossing from Spain to Morocco are probably hand-reared rather than wild-born.
Bowden, C.G., Orueta, J., López, J. M., Onrubia, A. & Quevedo, M.A. 2018. Sightings of reintroduced Northern Bald Ibis Geronticus eremita crossing between Spain and Morocco are probably hand-reared rather than wild-born. Oryx 52: 411-412. doi: 10.1017/S0030605318000479