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"Regarding the very rare CRESTED IBIS
 also known as the "Toki"


Crested Ibis


Birds & Other Wildlife during our Japan Spring Tour - May 2010

A List & Photo Gallery of Japan Birds, in 2 Parts

Upcoming FONT Birding & Nature Tours in Japan 

Highlights of Some Previous FONT Tours in Japan 

The following was written by Armas Hill, following our FONT tour in Japan in May 2010:

Late one afternoon, during our May 2010 Japan Spring Birding Tour, near the city of Kanazawa, we went to a museum to see what was to be a most interesting exhibit about a bird, known in Japanese as the "Toki". Its English name is the Crested Ibis. Its scientific name is Nipponia nippon. "Nippon" means "Japan".

The Crested Ibis is one of the rarest of the world's birds. A few decades ago it seriously flirted with extinction.

When I began birding in Japan in the early 1980s, my bird book, and nearly the only one available in English, was "A Field Guide to the Birds of Japan" published by the Wild Bird Society of Japan, with its second and last printing in English in 1983.
On the cover of that book was a color illustration of two
Tokis, or Japanese Crested Ibises, in flight. I've never forgotten that cover illustration! And, yes, I have hoped to somehow one day to see the bird!

In the text of that "Field Guide to the Birds of Japan", regarding the Japanese Crested Ibis (as it was called then), it was stated:
"In 1981 all 5 wild birds (remaining in Japan) were captured on Sado Island for cage breeding. In 1982, 1 male and 3 females were still alive in cages on Sado. In 1981, 7 (wild) birds were found in (a remote part of central) China." (Those 7 birds in China were 4 adults and 3 chicks.)

At the Crested Ibis exhibit we visited in the Kanazawa museum, there was a map on the wall showing what had been the distribution of the bird in Japan. It struck me as quite interesting that historically a center of abundance had been the picturesque Noto Peninsula where we had birded the previous day. The birds, when there, favored rice paddies where they fed on frogs.
If, by some quirk, we had seen a
Crested Ibis, an ultimate rarity, when there, it would have made our rare Chinese Egret that we had seen a few years previously in a rice field, "abundant" by comparison!
Sado Island, by the way, the last home of the
Japanese Crested Ibis in Japan, is not far, really, as a bird would fly, from the north end of the Noto Peninsula where we visited a lighthouse.

Also on the wall in the Kanazwa museum, there was a series of photographs, all taken about 3 to 4 weeks before our visit. In one of the photos, there was a baby Crested Ibis that had just been born in captivity.

In a newspaper, just before we left Japan, there was the not-so-good news that Crested Ibises that had been released into the wild on Sado Island, had, once again in 2010, failed to breed. Four pairs had laid eggs there in the spring of 2010. Ultimately, all of the nests were abandoned. Disturbance by crows seemed to be a significant factor. If the Crested Ibises on Sado had bred, it would have been the first successful breeding in the wild of that species in Japan in 34 years.

Some good news, however, is that the population of Crested Ibises in China has been steadily increasing. For the past 23 years, since when only 7 individuals were found, China has bred and protected the species.
By June 2002, the wild population in China numbered 140 birds, and the captive population there in 2 breeding centers was about 130 birds.
The most recent population estimate in China is of about 500 individuals.

In Japan, the Crested Ibis historically, in the early 19th Century, was common and widespread. In the late 19th Century and through much of the 20th Century, it declined drastically.

As recently as the mid-20th Century, there were two wild populations of Crested Ibises on the Noto Peninsula. One group there, in 1957, consisted of 14 birds. By 1961, it was down to 3. It nested there for the last time in 1962. In 1964, a single bird remained, which was later to be moved to captivity on Sado Island in 1969.

On Sado Island, there were 27 wild Crested Ibises in 1941. The following decade, in 1957, there were only 11. The decline there continued until, as noted, the species became extinct in the wild in Japan in 1981.

Since 1985, Crested Ibises from China have been transferred to Japan for captive breeding.
Over 100 individuals are now in captivity, with some in zoos, and about 30 (that is 29) at the Japanese Crested Ibis Preservation Center on Sado Island.
In September 2008, that center released 10 of the birds as part of its Crested Ibis restoration program, which aims to have 60 ibises in the wild by 2015.
Hopefully, toward that end, the breeding success in Japan will improve, so there would be a growing Japanese population as there has been in China.

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