|Other names:||Ciguigne, Hibicis, Hybis, Ibex, Ybex, Ybeux|
The dirtiest of birds because it feeds on corpses
The ibis stays near the edge of the water, looking for dead fish or other carrion to eat. It cannot get to the clean fish in deep water because it does not know how to swim, and makes no effort to learn. It is the dirtiest of birds because it feeds on corpses. Snakes flee from the ibis, which also feeds its chicks on snake eggs. The ibis lives on the Nile and purges itself with its beak.
The ibis represents the unrepentant sinner who only seeks the fruit of the flesh, rather than entering the water of baptism and feeding on the fruits of the spirit to be found there.
Pliny the Elder [1st century CE] (Natural History, Book 8, 41): The ibis is a bird from Egypt. It uses its curved beak to purge itself "through the part by which it is most conducive to health for the heavy residue of foodstuffs to be excreted." (Book 10, 40): The people of Egypt invoke the ibis to guard against the arrival of snakes. (Book 10, 45): The ibis is born black at Pelesium, but is white everywhere else.
Aelianus [170-230 CE] (On the Characteristics of Animals, Book 1, chapter 38): ... the Egyptians maintain that all snakes dread the feathers of the ibis. [Book 2, chapter 38] Here is another story relating to the Egyptian Ibis which I have heard. The bird is sacred to the moon. At any rate it hatches its eggs in the same number of days that the goddess takes to wax and to wane, and never leaves Egypt. The reason for this is that Egypt is the moistest of all countries and the moon is believed to be the moistest of all planets. Of its own free will the Ibis would never quit Egypt, and should some man lay hands upon it and forcibly export it, it will defend itself against its assailant and bring all his labour to nothing, for it will starve itself to death and render its captor's exertions vain. It walks quietly like a maiden, and one would never see it moving at anything faster than a foot's pace. The Black Ibis does not permit the winged serpents from Arabia to cross into Egypt, but fights to protect the land it loves, while the other kind encounters the serpents that come down the Nile when in flood and destroys them. Otherwise there would have been nothing to prevent the Egyptians from being killed by their coming. - [Scholfield translation]
Isidore of Seville [7th century CE] (Etymologies, Book 12, 7:33): The ibis is a bird of the river Nile. It eats the eggs of snakes, and purges itself by pouring water into its anus with its beak.