Since the new year, every dawn, I hear a series of loud cacophonic screams near my house. These begin as harsh squealing sounds and then get louder almost to the extent of trumpeting. And I know who the visitor is and where it is going to descend even before looking. The bird which produces these loud squeals is the Indian black ibis. And its favourite perch is on top of the mobile towers near my house. Maybe it gets a great network there!
The Indian black ibis (Pseudibis papillosa), also called the red-naped ibis is one of the more common ibises found in the Indian subcontinent. These birds do not necessarily depend on water bodies like other birds of the ibis family.
These birds are usually silent. But at dawn and dusk they tend to be noisy. I often find them sitting in one place silently for hours on end. Winters are when I find them soaking the sun, and grooming their feathers.
Both sexes look similar. These are medium-sized birds which have nearly all black plumage with a prominent white patch on the shoulder. They have long red legs and bluish-green glossy feathers on the wings. Their long curved bills are also something that grabs your attention. As its name goes, the distinctive feature seen in adult birds is a patch of crimson red warty skin on the nape and the crown of the head. This is technically a fleshy caruncle, akin to wattles that you see in turkeys. If you look closely you will notice that they have orange-red irises.
A number of names in Sanskrit literature including “kālakaṇṭak” have been identified as referring to this species. In Tamil Sangam literature there is mention of a bird called the “anril” which was described as having a curved bill and calling from atop palmyra palms. These were probably the ibises, as there is a desciption of of their arrival at dusk and of their loud calls. Ibises fly with necks outstretched and often in V-formation.
While these birds have been hunted for the meat in other parts of the subcontinent, they have been largely unaffected in India, as they are traditionally tolerated by farmers. I just read somewhere, that in recent times they have also taken to nesting in power pylons in parts of Rajasthan. I guess this is one of the adaptations to increasing industrialization and loss of traditional habitats of the birds.