This species has become extinct over most of its former range and is now limited to a single area, where it has an extremely small population. Although its population continues to increase, and there are now perhaps more than 250 mature individuals, its habitat continues to decline in quality, justifying its retention as Endangered.
Sibley, C. G.; Monroe, B. L. 1990. Distribution and taxonomy of birds of the world. Yale University Press, New Haven, USA.
Distribution and populationNipponia nippon
56 cm. Distinctive bushy-crested ibis with red facial skin and legs. Non-breeding adults are white while breeding adults have grey head, neck, mantle and scapulars.
historically nested in the Russian Far East, Japan, and China, and was a non-breeding visitor to North Korea, South Korea and Taiwan (China), but is now extinct in almost all of its former range (Birdlife International 2001). The only known remaining population is in Shaanxi province in central mainland China
, where it is a localised breeder. In May 1981, following three years of nation-wide surveys in China, a population of only seven birds (four adults and three chicks) were found in the wild. However, in the same year, the last five wild birds in Japan were captured and taken into captivity (Ding Changqing 2010), after which attempts at captive breeding were unsuccessful (Satoshi Matsuda 2008, Satoshi Yamagishi 2009). By June 2002, the wild population was maintaining a steady increase and numbered 140 birds, and the captive population (in two breeding centres) was over 130 birds. The most recent population estimate is of c.500 wild individuals in 2006 (Su Unshan 2007a), but it is unclear whether this yet comprises 250 or more mature individuals. Reproductive success is currently quite high (Yu
Xiaoping et al.
2006), both in the wild and captivity, and there are plans to begin reintroduction of birds to Sado Island, Japan, in 2008 (Chikatsuji 2007). Population justification
The global population in 2006 was c.500 individuals (Unshan 2007), equivalent to c.330 mature individuals.Trend justification
In 1981, only seven birds (including four adults) were known in the wild. By 2002, the wild population numbered 140 birds. The most recent population estimate is of c.500 individuals (Su Unshan 2007a), suggesting a very rapid increase (owing at least in part to conservation efforts), even though the distribution and population of this species is clearly now better known.Ecology
It breeds in February-June (Su Unshan 2007b, Ding Changqing 2010), in areas with a combination of tall trees for nesting and roosting and wetlands or agricultural land for feeding. Clutch size is usually 3-4 eggs, and the incubation period is c.28 days (Ding Changqing 2010). Young birds reach reproductive maturity at 2-4 years (Ding Changqing 2010, Yu Xiaoping et al
. 2010). In winter, the main feeding habitats are rice-fields, river banks and reservoirs, mainly close to human settlements, and it appears to tolerate human activities in these areas. In general, the species's winters below 700 m and moves to higher elevations of up to 1,200 m during the breeding season (Ding Changqing 2010). Current breeding sites are at 470-1,300 m, but lowland sites may be optimal, as indicated by density-independent population growth, perhaps owing to higher food availability, compared to relatively suboptimal high elevation sites (Wang Guiming and Li Xinhai 2008). It feeds on crabs, frogs, small fish (particularly loach), river snails, other molluscs and beetles. Threats
The species declined rapidly during the late 19th century and early to mid-20th century owing to the deforestation of woodlands used for nesting, over-hunting and loss of wetlands, as well as the use of agrochemicals in rice-paddies, especially during the 1950s, which causes reductions in the abundance and diversity of its prey (Li Xinhai et al
. 2009, Ding Changqing 2010). Its decline is also thought to have been exacerbated by the drying of rice-paddies during winter (Li Xinhai et al
. 2009), and in its remaining range, the area of winter rice-fields has declined with conversion to dry wheat production, reducing the available area of feeding habitat. Most remaining rice-paddies are in mountain areas with poor irrigation facilities. Dissection has shown that 80% of birds found dead in the wild had very little food in their stomachs, and starvation (especially in winter) could be a significant cause of mortality. As the population increases and birds range more widely, controlling the use of agrochemicals at feeding-sites is likely to become more difficult. Birds are occasionally shot by hunters. Genetic diversity is very low, which given the very small founder population, is inevitable (Zhang Bei et al.
2004). Breeding success may be negatively impacted by reductions in areas of land used for rice cultivation owing to unusually dry weather (Su Unshan 2007b). Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix I. It is legally protected in China. Since the discovery of nesting birds in 1981, emergency regulations have been enacted to prohibit logging, the use of agrochemicals in rice-fields and the use of firearms for hunting. In 1987, 51 nest trees were declared state property and protected. In 1990, the Shaanxi Crested Ibis Nature Reserve was established (Ding Changqing 2010). At Yangxian, nest-sites are patrolled and guarded during the breeding season. Some rice-fields are maintained as feeding-sites in winter and loach are introduced to them. By 1986 a captive breeding programme had been initiated at Beijing Zoo with six fledglings taken from the wild (Ding Changqing 2010), and breeding programmes are now on-going at three zoos in China: Yangxian and Longauntai in Shaaxi Province, and at Beijing (Su Unshan 2007), with successful breeding occurring since 1989 (Ding Changqing 2010). In 2010, there were five captive populations in China, with a total of c.600 birds (Yu Xiaoping et al
. 2009, Ding Changqing 2010). Experimental releases of captive-bred birds in areas inhabited by wild conspecifics has been carried out since 2004, with satellite tracking results for 17 of the 23 sub-adults released in 2004-2005 suggesting that they have settled in the wild (Su Unshan 2007b, Ding Changqing 2010). In 2006, one released pair bred successfully and another released bird bred with a wild individual; both pairs raised one chick (Su Unshan 2007b). In May 2007, 26 birds (13 males and 13 females) were released in Ningshan County, Shaanxi Province, with a further 30 released subsequently (four females and two males in 2008, six females and eight males in 2009, and three females and seven males in 2011) (Yu Xiaoping et al
. 2009, Ding Changqing 2010, Yu Xiaoping et al
. in press). By 2009, five pairs in this population had bred successfully, and there were more than 20 birds surviving in 2010 (Ding Changqing 2010). By early 2012, a total of at least 10 breeding pairs had been recorded amongst the released population, producing 66 eggs and successfully fledging 33 young during 2008-2011 (Yu Xiaoping in litt
. 2012). A further reintroduction programme is planned for Dongzhai Nature Reserve, Henan province (Yu Xiaoping in litt
. 2012). In Japan, a reintroduction programme is underway on Sado Island, Niigata Prefecture, with associated awareness-raising and land management activities, and captive breeding efforts are on-going at other institutes, including Tama Zoo in Tokyo (Satoshi Matsuda 2008, Satoshi Yamagishi 2009). An International Symposium on the Re-introduction of Crested Ibis was held in Japan in November 2007, being attended by nine delegates from China, and discussions covered the idea of forming a specialist group (Liu Dongping 2007). Reintroduction of the species is also being considered in South Korea.Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct regular surveys to monitor population trends. Monitor rates of habitat loss and degradation within the species's range. Support intensive ecological studies of wild birds using radio telemetry. Establish protected areas encompassing wetlands along the Han Shui river, where it has been observed feeding in recent years. Examine the feasibility of reintroducing the species to other parts of its former range, perhaps by means of captively-bred populations. Consider the provision of supplementary food in rice-paddies as a wider conservation measure (see Ding Changqing 2010). Consider widely encouraging rice cultivation practices that involve lower agrochemical inputs, one crop per year and extended periods of fallow flooding (see Li Xinhai et al
. 2009, Wood et al
Related state of the world's birds case studies
BirdLife International. 2001. Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K.
Brazil, M. 2009. Birds of East Asia: eastern China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, eastern Russia. Christopher Helm, London.
Changqing Ding. 2010. Crested Ibis. Chinese Birds 1(2): 156-162.
Chikatsuji, K. 2007. Ibis and Man - bringing them back together. BirdLife International Asia 6(2): 2-3.
Collar, N. J.; Butchart, S. H. M. 2013. Conservation breeding and avian diversity: chances and challenges. International Zoo Yearbook.
Li Xinhai; Tian Huidong; Li Dianmo. 2009. Why the Crested Ibis declined in the middle twentieth century. Biodiversity and Conservation 18(8): 2165-2172.
Liu Dongping. 2007. International Symposium on Re-introduction of Crested Ibis held in Japan. Newsletter of China Ornithological Society 16(2): 35.
Matsuda, S. 2008. First releasing of Crested Ibis in Japan. China Crane News 12(2): 35-36.
Su Unshan. 2007. Crested Ibis Nipponia nippon conservation in Shaanxi Province, China. The Babbler: BirdLife in Indochina: 2-3.
Su Unshan. 2007. Ibis protection project in China. BirdLife International Asia 6(1): 2.
Unshan, S. 2007. Ibis protection project in China. BirdLife Int. Asia 6: 40604.
Wang Guiming; Lu Xinhai. 2008. Population dynamics and recovery of endangered Crested Ibis (Nipponia nippon) in Central China. Waterbirds 31(3): 489-494.
Wood, C.; Yi Qiao; Peng Li; Ping Ding; Baozhong Lu; Yongmei Xi. 2010. Implications of rice agriculture for wild birds in China. Waterbirds 33(Spec pub 1): 30-43.
Yamagishi, S. 2009. Reintroduction of the Japanese Crested Ibis to the wild. BirdLife in Asia: 4-5.
Yu Xiao-Ping; Chang Xiu-Yun; Li Xia; Chen Wen-Gui; Shi Liang. 2009. Return of the Crested Ibis Nipponia nippon: a reintroduction programme in Shaanxi province, China. BirdingASIA 11: 80-82.
Yu, X. P., Liu N. F., Xi Y. M. and Lu B. Z. 2006. Reproductive success of the Crested Ibis Nipponia nippon. Bird Conservation International. 16: 325–343.
Yu, X.-P.; Xi, Y.-M.; Lu, B.-Z.; Li, X.; Gong, M.-H.; Shi, L.; Dong, R. 2010. Postfledging and natal dispersal of Crested Ibis in the Qinling Mountains, China. Wilson Journal of Ornithology 122(2): 228-235.
Zhang Bei; Fang Shengguo; Xi Yongmei. 2004. Low genetic diversity in the endangered Crested Ibis Nipponia nippon and implications for conservation. Bird Conservation International 14: 183-190.
Further web sources of information
Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) species/site profile. This species has been identified as an AZE trigger due to its IUCN Red List status and limited range.
Click here for more information about the Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE)
Detailed species accounts from the Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book (BirdLife International 2001).
View photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection
Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Chan, S., Crosby, M., Mahood, S., Peet, N., Pilgrim, J., Taylor, J.
Chan, S., Ding, C., Yu, X.
BirdLife International (2013) Species factsheet: Nipponia nippon. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 10/12/2013.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2013) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 10/12/2013.
This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000)
Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004)
Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.
To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife
To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.
Additional resources for this species