Status: Common regular spring and fall migrant west and central, uncommon east. Uncommon regular breeder north and west, rare southeast.
Documentation: Specimen: Olson #43 at UNK, 12 Jun 1916 Island Lake, Crescent Lake NWR, Garden Co.
Taxonomy: No subspecies are recognized.
Changes Since 2000: Numbers have increased substantially since 2000, and, at the same time, so has breeding activity. Breeding was first recorded in 2001, and is now almost annual in the Rainwater Basin.
Spring: Apr 6, 8, 9 <<<>>>Jun 17, 18, 18
Most move through in late Apr and early May; there is an earlier date 29 Mar 2019 at Rowe Sanctuary, Buffalo Co and are several reports into Jun which may be of non-breeding immatures.
- High counts: 400 in Lincoln Co 2 May 2016, 300 in the Oshkosh area, Garden Co 3 May 2006, 260 at Crescent Lake NWR, Garden Co 18 May 2018, 200 at North Platte SL, Lincoln Co 27 Apr 2017, and 170 in the eastern Rainwater Basin 7 May 2011.
Summer: Since 1990, White-faced Ibis has been observed with increasing frequency and regularity on the Great Plains (Jorgensen and Dinsmore 2005). Historically, it had been assumed that White-faced Ibis was once rather common in the state but declined substantially in the period 1920-1960, possibly as marshes were drained, but Jorgensen and Dinsmore (2005) showed that this species was not in fact common at any time prior to the late 1980s. There is only a single record of breeding prior to 1984, a nest found at what is now Harvard WPA, Clay Co in 1916 (Swenk 1918).
The first modern breeding occurred in the western Sandhills, where Ducey (1984) found four nests with eggs at Marsh Lakes in the northeast corner of Valentine NWR, Cherry Co 21 Jun 1984; young were seen by refuge personnel later in the season, who reported that ibises had been present in 1983 and “several years prior” (Mollhoff 2001). Further evidence of breeding was discovered in the western Sandhills in 1987, when young were fledged (Huber 1987), 1998 (Stephen Dinsmore, pers. comm.), 2001 (Mollhoff 2004), and 2007-2009 (Mollhoff 2008, 2016), and has continued since.
Nesting was first observed in the Rainwater Basin in 2001, when 25 nests were discovered at Kissinger Basin WMA, Clay Co 15 Jun; some 75 birds were present, but they abandoned the area by 14 Jul, probably due to falling water levels, and apparently moved to Harvard WPA, Clay Co (Jorgensen 2012). Between 2001 and 2015 there were at least nine breeding attempts in the Rainwater Basin, but decreasing water levels at nesting sites or cattle grazing (Mollhoff 2008) caused colonies either to be abandoned or to fail. Re-nesting occurred at Harvard WPA in 2010; 12 nests and 50 adults were there 7 Jun, but on 5 Jul 15 nests and 42 adults with eggs were found, suggesting that the earlier nests were flooded (the water was about 18 inches higher) and the birds had re-nested. In 2013, 50 birds and 20 nests were at Harvard WPA 21 Jun; numbers increased to 83 on 20 Jul, the latter count likely including newly-fledged birds, but successful breeding was not confirmed. In 2015, a colony of 70 White-faced Ibis were tending at least 11 nests at Harvard WPA 7 Jul, and also at a second site, Kirkpatrick Basin North WMA, York Co, young were successfully fledged 8 Jul. Four young fledged from the York Co colony, and on 10 Aug, these two colonies had 50 and 10 juveniles respectively. When water levels are suitable, Harvard WPA has become a regular nesting site; in 2019, up to 70 adult birds were present and multiple nests with eggs and/or young were observed on 17 Jun and 24 July, and 10-20 fledged birds were present on 20 August (Jorgensen and Brenner 2019).
Nesting away from the Sandhills and Rainwater Basin is unknown, although a group of 10 at Harlan Co Reservoir, Harlan Co 30 Jun 2005 was of interest; 1-2 remained through Jul, and a few were frequenting cattails there 16 Jul 2006 and were thought “possibly breeding”.
Fall: summer <<<>>> Nov 11, 12, 13
Early dates for fall movement are difficult to discern due to the increasing numbers of ibises summering in the Sandhills and Rainwater Basin. Away from these locations, however, one was in Morrill Co 28 Jun 2007, one was at Tamora WPA, Seward Co 8 Jul 2017, five were in York Co 9 Jul 2016 where no breeding was reported, one was at Harlan Co Reservoir 19 Jul 2017, a flyover flock of six was in Seward Co 25 Jul 2016, and eight were at Tamora WPA 31 Jul 2017. Very late was a Plegadis sp. Ibis photographed near Gavin’s Point Dam, Cedar Co 2-5 Dec 2010.
Although most, if not all, fall records would be expected to pertain to White-faced Ibis, the possibility of some being Glossy Ibis cannot be ruled out. Separation of the two species in late summer and fall is difficult, and most fall birds should probably be reported as “Plegadis sp.”
- High counts: 245 in Grant Co 4 Aug 2007, 188 in southeast Polk Co 17 Sep 2018, 139 at Crescent Lake NWR 11 Aug 2006, and 111 at Lakeside, Sheridan Co 4 Aug 2013.
NWR: National Wildlife Refuge
SL: Sewage Lagoons
UNK: University of Nebraska- Kearney
WMA: Wildlife Management Area (State)
WPA: Waterfowl Production Area (Federal)
Ducey, J.E. 1984. Cattle Egrets and White-faced Ibises nesting at Valentine Refuge. NBR 52: 76.
Huber, R.R. 1987. Crescent Lake nesting records. NBR 55: 75.
Jorgensen, J.G. 2012. Birds of the Rainwater Basin, Nebraska. Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.
Jorgensen, J.G., and S.J. Dinsmore. 2005. An Assessment of the Status of White-Faced Ibis (Plegadis chihi) in the Great Plains. North American Birds 59: 376-381.
Mollhoff, W.J. 2001. The Nebraska Breeding Bird Atlas 1984-1989. Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union Occasional Papers No. 7. Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.
Mollhoff, W.J. 2004. The 2001 Nesting Report. NBR 72: 99-103.
Mollhoff, W.J. 2008. The 2007 Nebraska nest report. NBR 76: 155-165.
Mollhoff, W.J. 2016. The Second Nebraska Breeding Bird Atlas. Bull. Univ. Nebraska State Museum Vol 29. University of Nebraska State Museum, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.
Swenk, M.H. 1918. Revisory notes on the birds of Nebraska. Wilson Bulletin 30: 112-117.
Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen. 2019. White-faced Ibis (Plegadis chihi), Version 1.0. In Birds of Nebraska — Online. www.BirdsofNebraska.org