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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Toki - Japan's Crested Ibis

The Japanese Crested Ibis, aka the Toki (トキ), is, of course, a bird, with a white slicked-back crest of feathers along the nape (back) of its otherwise bald red-skinned head, and similarly colored legs and feet. It is known by the scientific name of Nipponia nippon... just in case we weren't sure it was a Japanese bird.

Considered an endangered species, the Toki, with its black beak, is a large, slender bird measuring as much as 78.5-centimeters (30.9-inches) long from beak to tail. It possesses a wingspan of around 140-centimeters (55.12-inches).

While the non-breeding plumage is all white, breeding adults do possess a grey head, crest, neck and back.

Like all members of the ibis family, the Nipponia nippon has a thin, long downward turning beak.

In the 19th century, these birds were seen all over Japan, China, Korea and Russia, but the usual man-made 20th century factors of habitat loss and persecution (those are nice feathers), combined with the species' small population size, limited range and poor survival skills in the winter (starvation) made the decrease in numbers inevitable.

As of 1981, there were seven Toki still alive in the wild in Shaanxi, China - a surprise discovery, because it was thought that they had all been wiped out a few years earlier.

However, despite best efforts, the wild Toki breathed its last in October of 2003... but fear not, despite the death of all the wild Toki, China and Japan did partake in a preservation program to breed captive birds for eventual re-release into the wild.

After over-hunting throughout the 20th century, in the 1950s, villages on Sado Island established feeding grounds for the Toki, and when the Japanese government purchased woods for it to survive in, they gave it the status of a national forest for nesting Toki. Still... it came close to extinction.

Since then - 1981, China and Japan began a rigorous breeding program of the captive Toki they had... and good news...

In 2008, bred captive Toki birds were re-introduced back into Japan when the Sado Japanese Crested Ibis Preservation Center release 10 of the birds on Sado Island in Niigata-ken... with plans to have released a total of 60 by 2015.

I'm unsure if they were successful, but it does seem hopeful.

Despite its appearance, in the air, the bird is quite elegant, with orange-pink hues seen on its wings when the sunlight hits it just so.

The bird likes to nest in groups in the forest, feeding at rice fields and marshes eating insects in the summer and small fish and shellfish in the winter.

I'm sure I must have been mistaken, but I would swear I saw a Toki in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken back between 1991 and 1993... I saw the bird, saw the lovely red head, and white plumage and just assumed it was an ibis - no big deal. It was in a very wet part of a rice field... but it must have been something else... there weren't any wild Toki left, and they weren't supposed to be in that part of Japan... but it sure did look like one.

Andrew Joseph
PS: This is one of those blogs I have been holding onto for a few years - hence my confusion over the release of the total number of birds as of 2015.

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