Ecology of Toki!

For us people to live with wild ibises, it is very important to think about the relationship.

Ecology of Toki!
Ecology of Toki!

Ecology of Toki!

For us people to live with wild ibises, it is very important to think about the relationship.

The toki ( Japanese crested ibis ), whose scientific name is Nipponia nippon, is classified as a bird of a monotypic genus, belonging to the family Threskiornithidae in the order Pelecaniformes. When you see the bird hovering in the sky, you will be moved by the beauty of the orange-tinted pink color of its flight feathers and tail feathers. ( The orange-tinted pink is called “toki-iro,” which literally means “ibis color.” ) One of its characteristics is that during the breeding season its feathers turn blackish from the head to the back.
We will give you some tips about the ecology of the Japanese crested ibis which varies from season to season as well as about the way they catch feed in rice paddies.

Ecology icon

Toki’s history and activities

Japanese crested ibises used to be commonly seen almost all over Japan. Around the Meiji era, however, a large number of them were hunted, and their meat and feathers were valued relatively highly.
In addition, the use of agricultural chemicals and the environmental destruction such as the alteration, loss and exploitations of their habitats drove the ibises into a corner. Even though the toki was designated as a “special natural treasure” in 1952 and as an “internationally protected bird” in 1960, its population had dwindled to no more than 20 or so by that time.

In 1981 the wild ibises were captured and placed under protection. Artificial breeding was launched and carried on until 2003 but ended up in failure, and ibises born in Japan became extinct. But the artificial propagation using the pair of ibises presented by China in 1999 turned out to be successful, and today dozens of vigorous chicks are born and brought up every year. In 2008, ten crested ibises were released to the great sky of Sado, and since then the release of the birds has been conducted every year.

Some tips about the ecology of toki in the four seasons

Change in color of toki’s feathers

The Japanese crested ibis has a dark skin around its neck, and when the breeding season draws near, this skin becomes thick, pulverizes and comes off. The bird rubs it against its body after bathing, which makes it look blackish from the head to the back.
The toki is the only bird that undergoes this kind of change in the color of the feathers. The blackish color of the feathers not only shows its reproductive ability but also is considered to be a protective color during the brooding period.

During the breeding season(Jan.-Jun.)

During the breeding season(Jan.-Jun.)

The feathers of ibises turn blackish from the head to the back.
They frequently move about in pairs, mainly around their nests. They form their territory.

During the non-breeding season(Jul.-Dec.)

During the non-breeding season(Jul.-Dec.)

Ibises molt and regrow new feathers, which turn white from the head to the back.
They use the same roost and feeding ground, and form flocks.

Feeding grounds in spring

Feeding grounds in spring

Rice fields and ridges between rice fields
Water-filled fallow paddies and other fallows during and after the rice-planting season when many people are around

Feeding grounds in summer

Feeding grounds in summer

Water-filled fallow paddies and other fallows during the time rice plants have grown high
Ridges between rice fields or meadows

Feeding grounds in autumn

Feeding grounds in autumn

Uncultivated rice paddies after harvesting
Paddies with puddles in them

Feeding grounds in winter

Feeding grounds in winter

Inlets of rice paddies, streams, etc.
Places where there is a stream or where snow has melted

Toki’s feed. Loaches, frogs and earthworms are toki’s favorite food.

Toki’s feed. Loaches, frogs and earthworms are toki’s favorite food.

Ibises feed on a wide variety of small living things - from insects like locusts and dragonflies to water creatures like pond snails and other shellfishes. There is no record that they have eaten plants such as nuts and berries.

How to identify toki

What is called a heron is a bird which is white all over and which looks like a Japanese crested ibis. Learning the characteristics of both birds will keep you from confusing one with the other.

Crested ibis
Neck
Thick and short. Neck stretched while flying
Beak
Long, thick, bent downward
Legs
Short, not eye-catching while flying
Heron
Neck
Thin, long. Head ducked while flying
Beak
Short, straight
Legs
Long, eye-catching while flying