Asian Crested Ibis Nipponia nippon


Justification of Red List Category
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.

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.

Distribution and population

Nipponia nippon 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 naturally occurring 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. There have been successful reintroductions at areas where wild individuals still occurred (Su Unshan 2007b, Ding Changqing 2010), as well as in Ningshan County, Shaanxi Province (Yu Xiaoping et al. 2009, Ding Changqing 2010), and the reintroduced population appear to be expanding their range (Rong et al. 2015). A reintroduction programme is underway in Japan (Satoshi Matsuda 2008, Satoshi Yamagishi 2009), and further reintroductions are also planned in South Korea (Anon. 2016), Dongzhai Nature Reserve, Henan province (Yu Xiaoping in litt. 2012) and Mount Emei, Sichuan Province (Anon. 2017).


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. On Sado Island, invertebrates were the most common prey, being consumed 70-90% of the time (Endo et al. 2013). Seasonal patterns in foraging have been documented, with paddies being important habitat in spring, early summer, autumn and winter, and levees around paddies and grasslands being important in late summer (Endo et al. 2013).


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 away from core conservation areas, 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).  Reintroduction in China is becoming increasingly difficult; the rampant use of pesticides and fertilizers made a substantial reduction of aquatic organisms in paddy fields(Yu et al. unpublished). 

Conservation actions

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 breeding pair and four nestlings were located amongst a wintering flock in Fengliu village, Shaanxi Province (China) in 2014, showing the use of the reintroduction programme in expanding their range to eastern areas of Qinling Mountains (Rong et al. 2015). A further reintroduction programme is planned for Dongzhai Nature Reserve, Henan province (Yu Xiaoping in litt. 2012), and Mount Emei, Sichuan Province (Anon. 2017). 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). Reintroductions are also planned for 2017 in South Korea (Anon. 2016). In 2010, six pairs on Sado Island attempted to breed but all nests failed (Koshida et al. 2014). In 2014 a chick successfully fledged and was born from a reintroduced female and wild male (Kyodo 2016). 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. Certified rice for the development of villages coexisting with the Japanese crested ibis” is being sold and profits fed back to farmers who manage their land for wildlife (G7 Accountability Working Group 2015).

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. 2010). Better understand reasons for nest failure of reintroduced individuals (Koshida et al. 2014).



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.


Text account compilers
Wheatley, H., Chan, S., Crosby, M., Mahood, S., Benstead, P., Peet, N., Pilgrim, J., Taylor, J., North, A.

Ding, C., Yu, X., Chan, S.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Nipponia nippon. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 27/05/2022. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2022) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 27/05/2022.