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Providing evidence to improve practice

Action: Use captive breeding to increase or maintain populations of storks and ibises Bird Conservation

Key messages

Read our guidance on Key messages before continuing

  • We captured a small study and a review describing the captive breeding of storks (Ciconiidae) and a study and a review describing the breeding of northern bald ibis, Geronticus eremita.
  • Both studies on storks were from the USA. The small study found that a pair bred; the review found that only seven of 19 species had been successfully bred in captivity.
  • A review of bald ibis conservation found that 1,150 birds had been produced in captivity from 150 founders over 20 years. However, some projects had failed, and a study from Turkey found that captive birds had lower productivity than wild birds.


Supporting evidence from individual studies


A small study at the Audubon Park Zoo, New Orleans, USA, in 1983 (Farnell & Shannon 1987) found that a pair of Abdim’s storks, Ciconia abdimii, successfully bred in captivity. However, they did not re-nest following the removal of two eggs for artificial incubation. This study is also discussed in ‘Artificially incubate and hand-rear birds in captivity’.



A 1987 review of the captive-breeding of storks (Johnson et al. 1987) found that only seven species had been bred in captivity, and many of these only on a few occasions. These seven were: wood stork, Mycteria americana; yellow-billed stork, M. ibis; painted stork, M. leucocephala; black stork, Ciconia nigra; Abdim’s stork, C. abdimii; white stork, C. ciconia; and marabou stork, Leptoptilos crumeniferus.



A study in southeast Turkey in 1977-88 (Akçakaya 1990) found that efforts to breed northern bald ibis (waldrapp) Geronticus eremita in captivity were not very successful. From a captive population of between 11 and 45 individuals (with 41 taken from the wild over the study period), a maximum of 19 young/year were produced, with a total of 90 over the study period. This was equivalent to 1.45 young/nest, lower than in wild birds, possibly due to high levels of pre-fledging mortality due overcrowding in the cages. Forty-six young were healthy and 67 individuals were released. Post-release survival is discussed in ‘Release captive-bred individuals’ and this study is also described in ‘Provide artificial nesting sites’.



A 2007 review of northern bald ibis (waldrapp), Geronticus eremita, conservation (Bowden et al. 2007) found that three lineages of birds in North America, Japan and Europe, comprising a total of 1,150 birds were produced from an original 150 birds taken from the wild in Morocco in 1988. About 800 additional birds are also thought to be present in captivity but are not registered. However, a programme at a group of zoos, headed by Munich Zoo, failed to establish a productive captive colony for three years. The authors note that ibises frequently swallow small objects they find including nails and wire, which has led to many birds dying from a punctured gut. This study is also discussed in ‘Release captive-bred individuals into the wild to restore or augment wild populations’, ‘Artificially incubate and hand-rear birds in captivity’, ‘Use holding pens at release sites’, ‘Release birds as adults or sub-adults, not juveniles’, ‘Clip birds’ wings on release’, ‘Use microlites to help birds migrate’ and ‘Foster birds with non-conspecifics’.


Referenced papers

Please cite as:

Williams, D.R., Child, M.F., Dicks, L.V., Ockendon, N., Pople, R.G., Showler, D.A., Walsh, J.C., zu Ermgassen, E.K.H.J. & Sutherland, W.J. (2019) Bird Conservation. Pages 141-290 in: W.J. Sutherland, L.V. Dicks, N. Ockendon, S.O. Petrovan & R.K. Smith (eds) What Works in Conservation 2019. Open Book Publishers, Cambridge, UK.