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HomeNewsLocal newsA Lonely St. John Scarlet Ibis Seeks Companionship

A Lonely St. John Scarlet Ibis Seeks Companionship

A remarkable Scarlet Ibis has been living near Fish Bay on St. John. (Photo Gail Karlsson)

What a joy it has been for us to have a big red bird lighting up the mangrove wetlands around Fish Bay. Unfortunately, though, it seems like a pretty lonely life.

We don’t know for sure if this Scarlet Ibis came from the flock introduced by Richard Branson to Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands or from some more distant natural colony.

Actually, we aren’t even sure if it is the same scarlet ibis that first arrived in Fish Bay in 2020. It doesn’t look the same – the feathers now are much redder and brighter. However, that could be because it was an adolescent adventurer when it came, and now it is fully mature.

I have been wondering if the ibis will stay around this summer or head off somewhere to look for a mate.

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In the spring, the ibis seemed to be spending an awful lot of time with an elegant Snowy Egret. They were often spotted walking together through the wetlands, suspiciously close together. There was even gossip in the neighborhood about the possibility of pink babies.

A Snowy Egret was often seen walking with the Scarlet Ibis. (Photo Gail Karlsson)

But the snowy egret really is a ‘snowbird’ and later in the spring was ready to move on, heading north to mate with one of its own kind. Still, it seemed like those two were having a hard time saying goodbye.

In the spring, the Snowy Egret went north to breed. (Photo Gail Karlsson)

Since the snowy egret left, the ibis seems to have been looking for new friends among the resident birds in the wetlands.

But the other birds that live or forage in the wetlands don’t seem very interested in bonding with the ibis.

The Green Herons that live in the pond get very agitated and sound an alarm whenever an intruder shows up. They seem especially annoyed when the scarlet ibis is there, maybe because it is not one of the regular island birds. Sometimes a green heron will scream at the ibis until it flies off.

Green Herons try to scare off the Scarlet Ibis. (Photo Gail Karlsson)

The Great Egrets that come to forage in the wetlands seem curious about the ibis. However, they aren’t really all that friendly, even with each other. They will often threaten other egrets that seem to be getting too close. Egrets catch fish in the pond, and the ibis mostly sticks its long bill down into the mud to locate crabs and other crustaceans, so they aren’t directly in competition. Still, the great egrets like to dominate the space when they are there. (They don’t pay any attention to the complaints of the green herons.)

A Great Egret seemed surprised to see this big red stranger. (Photo Gail Karlsson)

The Little Blue Herons tend to stay out of the way of the egrets and are generally pretty skittish about other birds they view as possible threats. Rather than menacing, they usually just fly off squawking. So I was surprised to see one of the little blue herons allowing the ibis to get very close. It was only for a few moments, though.

The Scarlet Ibis tried getting close to a Little Blue Heron. (Photo Gail Karlsson)

The Black-necked Stilts are more sociable than the egrets but tend to stick together in their group and don’t really want a bigger bird hanging around when they are fishing.

A Black-necked Stilt ignored the Scarlet Ibis. (Photo Gail Karlsson)

The small, migratory Lesser Yellowlegs also didn’t appreciate the ibis following them around. And now, like the snowy egrets, they have gone north to their breeding grounds.

A Lesser Yellowlegs didn’t seem to appreciate being tailed by the Scarlet Ibis. (Photo Gail Karlsson)

So what’s a lonely scarlet ibis to do?

Its long curvy bill now looks black, not pink (and not just because it’s muddy work poking around for crabs). The darkening of the bill happens when the adults are ready to breed.

It would be great for the ibis to find a mate, but sad for us if that means it has to leave St. John. Unless, by some chance, the couple could come back and start a family here.

*Gail Karlsson is an environmental lawyer, writer, and photographer. She is the author of The Wild Life in an Island House, plus the guide book Learning About Trees and Plants – A Project of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of St. John, and has just published A Birds’ Guide to The Battery and New York Harbor. Follow her on Instagram @gailkarlsson and gvkarlsson.blogspot.com.

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