Irruptive White Ibis breeding is associated with use of freshwater crayfish in the coastal Everglades Article

Cocoves, TC, Cook, MI, Kline, JL et al. (2021). Irruptive White Ibis breeding is associated with use of freshwater crayfish in the coastal Everglades . CONDOR, 123(1), 10.1093/ornithapp/duaa072

cited authors

  • Cocoves, TC; Cook, MI; Kline, JL; Oberhofer, L; Dorn, NJ



  • As avian reproductive success is generally prey limited, identifying important prey types or sizes and understanding mechanisms governing prey availability are important objectives for avian conservation ecology. Irruptive White Ibis (Eudocimus albus) nesting at coastal colonies in the southern Everglades numbered over 100,000 nests in the 1930s. A century of drainage and altered hydrologic patterns reduced aquatic prey availability and eliminated large nesting events; nesting activity in recent decades has been typically less than 5% of historical peaks. Hydrologic restoration is expected to increase ibis nesting activity, but which prey types will support high nesting effort is less clear. In 2017 and 2018, we collected food boluses from White Ibis chicks at coastal colonies in Everglades National Park. We also monitored regional nesting activity from 1999 to 2018. In 2017, the region had 1,075 nests, typical of the past several decades; but in 2018, there were 30,420 nests, representing the highest recorded nesting activity in 87 yr. Prey composition varied between years; estuarine crabs dominated nestling boluses in 2017, while crayfish and fish were dominant prey in 2018. Crayfish, especially Procambarus alleni, were heavily exploited by ibis early in the 2018 breeding season, while fish were used more at the end. Crayfish abundances in wetlands near the colonies were higher prior to 2018, and more crayfish-producing short-hydroperiod wetlands remained available for ibis foraging in 2018. Our results support previous studies indicating that crayfish are important prey for breeding ibises and suggest that unprecedented, extensive flooding of seasonal wetlands promoted crayfish production and initiated the irruptive breeding in 2018. Our observations indicate that rehydration of the southern Everglades could restore ibis nesting activity at coastal colonies, but further investigations of hydrologic variation, crayfish production, and ibis foraging and nesting activity will be helpful to understand these dynamics and the importance of short-hydroperiod wetlands. ©

publication date

  • February 1, 2021

published in

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


  • 123


  • 1