Does the Ibis know how to fight a hurricane?

Opinions conflict on legend’s reality


A legend surrounds the American white ibis.

The legend says the ibis is the last animal to leave before a hurricane hits and the first to return after it passes.

Is the legend true? How can a bird know when a hurricane hits and when to move?

Karl Burch, lead supervisor of the bird department at Zoo Miami, says it’s possible.

“They are usually the first to come back from a hurricane,” Burch said, “because now there are resources they can use. If they can, they will go back.”

William Searcy, the Maytag professor of ornithology at the University of Miami, disagrees. “Many birds just stay in place when a hurricane hits,” he said.

The ibis, which is the mascot of the University of Miami, is white, with a long reddish-orange beak and Carolina blue eyes. It stands about a foot tall and uses its beak to scavenge for food.

“They use their beaks to dig into the mud and grass to search for insects and worms,” Burch said. “They are opportunistic about searching for food”

Searcy, on the other hand, said the bird’s choice of habitat is solely because of water.They are a wetland species,” he said. “They prefer this because of the diversity of resources they enjoy. The wetlands consist of crustaceans and insects, shelter and a warm, humid climate.”

Burch expanded on his logic this way:

“They are a wetland species,” he said, “but we have begun to see them move to populated areas. They are beginning to be cosmopolitan.”

The ibis is also resourceful. And it can use its resources to assist in survival. This makes it specific about where it settles down.

“The ibis is a particular bird,” Searcy said. “Although it is pretty self-sufficient, it is picky in where it wants to make home. It goes where resources are plentiful, like any animal would.”

If the ibis was the first to return after a hurricane, it would have no food sources.

Semerjit Bains, a sophomore who grew up near the University of Miami, is skeptical. “I’ve lived here all my life,” he said, “and I’ve never seen an ibis after a hurricane.”

He has noticed that the ibis is starting to become more apparent in Coral Gables and other parts of South Florida. “They are definitely growing in numbers,” he said.

Despite the skepticism of some, others stick with the legend of the returning ibis. “The ibis is the last to leave and the first to return,” said Phil Neves, 21, a Coral Gables native and amateur photographer.

Neves has been taking pictures of birds, people, locations and all matters of interesting possibilities for several years. It is through this experience, Neves said, that he has witnessed the bird’s potential.

“It can withstand hurricane winds,” he said. “I’ve seen it.”

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