top of page
  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

Glossy Ibis and global warming: a trip to RSPB Pagham Harbour. 01.02.22

Updated: Feb 10, 2022

I visit RSPB Pagham Harbour very frequently. My "patch" I see as being the Sussex harbours, estuaries and rivers; viz. - Chichester Harbour (inc. Fishbourne Creek, Dell Quay, West Wittering); Pagham Harbour (although Pagham is not really an estuary as it has no river); the Arun Valley; the Adur Estuary; Cuckmere Haven and Rye Harbour). I visit all these sites regularly, normally at least once a month, by public transport from Brighton My main bird interest is endemic and migrant waders, ducks and geese. I am fascinated by their ecology; their interaction with the landscape, plants and other animal. Sadly many of these birds are is sharp decline due to loss of habitat and global warming. I am happy to see the same species of birds over and over again; as I get pleasure from getting to know the level of abundance of these species, as it changes across the year (and eventually across years), and noting interesting behaviours.

But I also get pleasure seeing new to me birds ("life listers"), but only if I can see them by public transport, and if they are not vagrants that have no chance of surviving in their location (e.g. have arrived in a storm, or on a container ship.

On Tuesday I noted on bird guides that 6 Glossy Ibis had been seen at Pagham on Monday. I have been following the progress of these seemingly same 6 Glossy Ibis around the west of West Sussex, and east Hampshire; there had been reports of them in various locations. (Bird Guides, which requires a subscription for detailed information, Sightings - BirdGuides is very useful for finding out what is about, but so are the Sussex Birders Sussex Birders | Facebook and Hampshire Birding Group Hampshire Birding Group | Facebook face book pages - free to join. The Sussex Ornithological Society recent sightings page is also very useful, and free Recent Sightings – The Sussex Ornithological Society (

It was pleasure seeing this Glossy Ibis; but it is not an unalloyed pleasure, as one of the reasons there are seen is because of Global Warming (although Glossy Ibis are increasing in number and range in many locations, so the picture with Glossy Ibises populations is perhaps more complex perhaps than just climate change). Whilst it may seem pleasant to see birds nesting in the UK now that preferred warmer climes previously, such as Little Egrets and more recently Cattle Egrets and Spoonbills); the warming of the UK climate will inevitable displace endemic birds that prefer colder weather, and eventually lead to local extinctions of the species. Glossy Ibis nested once in the UK, in Lincolnshire, a few years ago, but their eggs did not hatch. No attempts at breeding have been seen since then; but these six Egrets are roosting in Pagham, where the Cattle Egrets and Little Egrets nest; so may be they will attempt to breed there soon.

These photos are in chronological order

Ferry Pool


Avocets and Shovelers

A Herring Gull and many Avocets (there were about 40 on the pool in total)

Shovelers, Herring Gulls and Avocets

Ferry Chanel

Little Egret



Sidlesham Quay


The path to North Wall


Blackbirds and a Redwing






From the North Wall

Brent Geese

Toward the harbour mouth

Brent Goose




Starlings and Lapwings

Gulls (species hard to identify in silhouette) and Lapwings (easy to identify in silhouette!)

Brent Geese

The field north of Owl Copse

Brent Geese joining Herring Gulls

Herring Gulls, Black-Headed Gulls and Brent Geese all foraging in a particular point. perhaps with an abundance of worms; Brent Geese will eat grass and worms when the eel grass they love on the saltmarsh mud is depleted.

And my first sighting of a Glossy Ibis; I saw this bird in flight through my binoculars and saw it land behind the Brent Geese and Gulls, and forage with a group of Black-Tailed Godwits

Glossy Ibis, Godwits and Herring Gulls. I took these photographs at a very long distance away as I did not want to disturb these foraging birds. Disturbance causes birds to fly off when foraging, which depletes their reserves of calories. Many birds die of malnutrition due to expending more calories than they can eat. These were taken at 400mm zoom on a three quarter format mirrorless camera, and then further enlarged electronically through cropping; so the clarity is not great. But I like record shots of very pleasurable sightings; they remind me of the pleasure of the moment (although even in the moment of observing my pleasure was alloyed by knowing that I was seeing a consequence of climate change)

Just down from the Brent Geese, Herring Gulls and Glossy Ibis there were many Wigeon foraging. Wigeon like Brent Geese are overwintering from colder regions (Brent Geese, Russia; Wigeon: Iceland, Scandinavia and Russia, and possibly a few from Scotland and northern England)

And there were quite a few Curlew in these fields too.

Brent Geese and Gulls, and a Curlew in flight

and the Glossy Ibis again (same bird as above)

Through the grass.

... gulls and geese

Cattle Egret - very far off - I counted about 10. Cattle Egret have bred at Pagham Harbour over the last two years

The South Downs (at Goodwood) in the distance)

A Robin on a hedge

Going back from the North Wall

More Wigeon

Wigeon and Teal

Wigeon in the Ferry Chanel

Curlew in the Ferry Channel


Lapwings over the Ferry Chanel

Looking toward Pagham (Haven Church Farm Holiday Park)

When I got back to the Visitors Centre at 14.30 I got the bus back to Chichester, as I had to be back in Brighton to collect one of our cats from the vets; however, on the bus the vet rang and told me that she needed surgery to remove bladder stones. Carmen was under anaesthetic as she had had a ultrasound scan, so we agreed to go ahead with the surgery. Carmen could not then be picked up that night. After chatting with my partner I decided to go back to Pagham on the bus and see if I could see the Ibis coming back to roost at the heronry on the North Wall at Pagham, where the Cattle Egret and Little Egret roost (and nest). One of the RSPB volunteers had told me that they did that the last night at five.

(05.02,22. Update: Carmen's surgery went well and she is recovering well)

The Heronry (North Wall) 17.00

The Glossy Ibis arrive, with Cattle Egret and Little Egret

There is no information on Glossy Ibis population in the UK on the RSPB website as they are such rare birds

From the British Trust for Ornithology BTO BirdFacts | Glossy Ibis

First Record: Berkshire, 1793 (Palmer, P. 2000. First for Britain & Ireland, Arlequin Press. Number of Records (to 2019): 82 per year

Most Records From: August to December

Status in UK: scarce visitor

Glossy ibises are common birds in Spain and Portugal, with a huge global range that also takes in Africa, Southern Asia, Australia and tropical areas of the Americas. They regularly disperse away from their breeding areas in winter, with a few birds reaching as far north as the UK. In fact, they are increasingly frequent visitors to the UK, and can be seen in any month, although winter and spring sightings are most likely.

While glossy ibises are certainly not regular enough to be expected on a trip to a UK wetland, any sightings are not entirely unexpected. Luckily, they will often stay in their adopted area for several days, or even weeks, too, allowing many birdwatchers the chance to see them.

Glossy ibises are relatively large birds, similar in size to a curlew. Like curlews, and all ibises worldwide, they also have down-curved beaks that they use for probing for invertebrates such as worms and beetles, plus amphibians and small mammals. At first glance they appear black, but when seen well, especially in good light, they are well named as their plumage is glossed with green, purple and bronze, as you can see in the pictures below.

Glossy Ibis and Little Egrets

European Distribution map of Breeding Birds Glossy Ibis EBCC | Atlas of European Breeding Birds (

"Numbers of Glossy Ibis recorded in Britain have increased dramatically since the mid-2000s, mirroring the increase in their breeding population in southwest Europe, especially in Doñana (south Spain). Despite the increasing number of records in Britain, there are still only small numbers of Glossy Ibis present in spring and, so far, only two nesting attempts. The majority of Glossy Ibises recorded in Britain arrive in autumn, with re-sightings of colour-ringed birds indicating that most arrive during their first year. Our results indicate that, regardless of any common trend, larger numbers of Glossy Ibis tend to be recorded in Britain in years when smaller numbers have bred in Doñana. A higher proportion of Glossy Ibises then tend to be present in Britain in spring compared to the previous autumn, when temperatures are higher during the winter in between. In short, our results suggest that Glossy Ibis is more likely to breed in Britain when poor conditions for breeding in Doñana are followed by mild winters in Britain. Although we expect Glossy Ibis to begin breeding regularly in Britain eventually, there are probably very few wetlands in Britain large enough to support breeding colonies of significant size." Ausden, Malcolm & White, Graham & Santoro, Simone. (2019). The Changing Status of the Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus in Britain. 1. 116-121. (PDF) The Changing Status of the Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus in Britain (

A large number of breeding waterbird populations are increasing in the UK as a direct result of climate change. The colonisation of the UK by Little Egret, Cattle Egret, Great White Egret and Spoonbill in response to climate change (Ausden et al. 2015) has added to our avifauna. BTO Climate Change and the UK's Birds.pdf (

So will Glossy Ibises be next to breed in the UK

Two rare birds usually found in the Mediterranean region have been spotted building a nest in Lincolnshire. 18 August 2014

The pair of glossy ibis did not raise young at the RSPB site in Frampton Marsh, near Boston, but it is believed to be the first attempt by the species in the UK.

Site manager John Badley said it could mean the beginning of a colonisation of the birds usually found in Spain.

It is thought drier conditions are pushing the birds further north.

RSPB manager John Badley, said: "The birds built up a nest platform out of the water in just a few days, but despite being seen courting and displaying, they didn't lay any eggs.

"This could be the behaviour of immature birds practising before they are mature enough to breed.

"We will have to wait and see if the birds come back next spring to know if this could be the beginning of a colonisation of the UK, as has been predicted, or just a one-off."

Glossy ibis, a heron-like bird, usually nest in the south of France, southern Spain and in south-east Europe.

However, it is believed that drier conditions in southern Spain have pushed some birds further north in the search for favourable nesting sites. Glossy ibis in nest attempt at Frampton Marshes - BBC News

Is now the time at Pagham for Glossy Ibises to nest



bottom of page