The White-faced Ibis and the Power of Citizen Science

ACES Staff

April 25, 2013

The White-faced Ibis and the Power of Citizen Science

We’ve had a lot of fun with all of our Rock Bottom Ranch (RBR) visitors this spring, but two in particular have stood out. This week we’ve been graced by a pair of White-faced Ibis, who have been spotted multiple times flying around the Ranch and feeding in the pastures! This highly nomadic bird strikes a dramatic figure next to the Canadian Geese and Mallard Ducks that are our usual avian visitors. Its plumage appears black under some conditions, but when hit by sunlight it reveals itself to be an iridescent blue-green. Flying over the pastures, the lengthy, down-curved bill and long legs of the White-faced Ibis mark it as something different and unique. Many thanks to ACES trustee Mark Fuller for the photos!


While the White-faced Ibis sounds (at least to me) like a rare visitor, the Internet quickly disabused me of that notion. Looking at range maps from Audubon and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, I learned that they are known migratory and breeding residents of Colorado. It is unclear if our pair will stick around RBR for the summer, head to a higher and colder part of Colorado, or head further north. 

The range maps are useful for seeing a large habitat overview, but I still was unsure about the rarity of the White-faced Ibis here in the Roaring Fork Valley. Luckily, citizen science came to the rescue in the form of eBird, a database which was co-founded by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society.  EBird allows birders across the world to enter information about their bird sightings. Ebird is a similar tool to the Project Budburst database, a plant phenology website which allows citizens to enter observations of plant life events. ACES new Community Field Lab program is using Project Budburst to collect data that will contribute to a greater understanding of ecological changes happening in our valley. Similarly, using eBird, I was able to see that while the White-faced Ibis is not common in our area, it is not an infrequent visitor. More interestingly, I could pinpoint the individual sightings, and learn that this bird has been seen in El Jebel (near the ranch) this time of year, but also up on Independence Pass in August and near Leadville in September! Being able to access citizen science data is an amazing tool, and one that I am excited to learn more about as ACES embarks on new citizen science projects. 

~ Kendall Reiley, ACES Educator at RBR