Reunion Ibis, Threskiornis solitarius

Reunion Ibis or Reunion Sacred Ibis (Threskiornis solitarius) is an extinct species of ibis that was native to the volcanic island of Reunion located in the Indian Ocean. The first sub-fossil remains were found in 1974, and the ibis was initially scientifically described in 1987. The closest relatives are the Malagasy Sacred Ibis, the Straw-necked Ibis and the African Sacred Ibis.

Some travelers accounts from the 17th and the 18th centuries described a white colored bird that flew with difficulty and it was subsequently referred to as the Reunion Solitaire. During the mid-19th century, the old travelers accounts were incorrectly assumed to be in reference to white relatives of the Dodo, due to one account specifically mentioning Dodos on the island, and due to 17th century paintings of white Dodos had recently surfaced. However, no fossils referable to Dodo-like birds were ever found on the island, and it was later questioned whether the paintings had anything to do with the island. Other identities were proposed as well, based only on speculation. In the late 20th century, the discovery of a sub fossil ibis led to the idea that the old accounts actually were in reference to an ibis species instead. The idea that the solitaire and the sub fossil ibis are identical has only met with restricted dissent, and is now widely accepted.

Combined, the old descriptions and sub fossils show that the Reunion Ibis was mostly white, with this color merging into grey and yellow. The tips of the wings and plumes of ostrich-like feathers on the rear were black. The neck and the legs were long, the beak was relatively straight and short for an ibis. It was more robust in its built than its extant relatives, but was otherwise quite similar to them. sub fossil wing-bones indicate it had reduced flight capabilities, a feature maybe linked to seasonal fattening. The diet of the Reunion Ibis was worms and some other items foraged from the soil. It showed a preference for solitude. Within the 17th century, it lived in mountainous areas, but it might have been confined to these remote heights by heavy hunting by humans and predation by introduced animals within the more accessible areas of the island. Visitors to this island praised the flavor, and therefore sought after the flesh. These factors are believed to have driven the bird to extinction by the early 18th century.

Image Caption: Réunion Ibis (Threskiornis solitarius). Based on fossil elements, recent restorations by Julian Hume and Jean-Michel Probst, and 17th century written accounts by Dubois, Carré, Feuilley, Tatton, and Melet, as well as extant relatives in the same genus. Credit: Michael B. H./Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)