The Glossy Ibis ; a rare bird in Victorian Nottinghamshire

Glossy Ibis is a bird from warmer, southern climes such as the Mediterranean. Even nowadays, it is quite a rare species in the county:

glos ibis

On October 27, 1909, a single bird was shot by Fred Smith at Misson in the very north eastern corner of the county, almost in Yorkshire. This latter county had, for reasons unknown, received an influx of at least fourteen birds during this month of October 1909.  The orange arrow marks the spot. The county boundary with Yorkshire, to the north west, is indicated by the perforated line and must be only a few hundred yards away:


Two interesting letters to Joseph Whitaker tell the story.

Dear Sir,
I have the pleasure of dropping you a line in reply to yours, duly received. A man named Fred Smith, who I fear is a shocking poacher, shot the bird, Glossy Ibis, in question. His wife took it to a game dealer, at Doncaster, whose name is Borrill, his shop being in St Sepulchre Gate . He gave her the large sum of one shilling for it, after endeavouring to get it for sixpence.
A doctor bought it from Borrill and is having it stuffed for the museum. I am sorry to have forgotten the doctor’s name, but no doubt the game dealer would tell you if you wrote him. You will forgive me, I hope, for not knowing your book.
I also love birds and used to keep a great many – once I had 46. We still have a few in a good-sized aviary in a greenhouse and my little daughter aged 11  is much interested in birds and has lately acquired several volumes at a cost of £3.10 shillings on the subject.
Yours faithfully,
FW Keane


Joseph Whitaker followed the clues and two months later, he received further information from Dr Corbett himself:

9, Priory Place,
11. 11. 09

Dear Sir,
Mr Borrill showed me your letter re-the Glossy Ibis. All I know of it is that it was exposed in his shop with other wildfowl & I was, fortunately for me, the first to “spot” it & purchase it for the local museum of which I am the curator. If ever you are in Doncaster I shall be pleased to show it to you.
Yours truly,
HH Corbett

Anybody who missed that dead specimen in Doncaster in 1909 had a very long wait to see another Glossy Ibis in Nottinghamshire. In the winter of 2013-2014, a single bird was seen in a flooded roadside field next to the Peugeot Garage in Lowdham, near to the River Trent in the south of the county. southern Nottinghamshire:


Most people who wanted to see a Glossy Ibis were able to watch this particular individual which was very amenable and reliable in its appearances. It attracted a steady stream of admirers, and was very easy to see::

Watching an Ibis copyright a

A more spectacular species of Ibis to occur in  Nottinghamshire in the future might well be the Sacred Ibis. This bird normally lives in sub-Saharan Africa, but, in actual fact, there is a healthy feral population in western France. It would not be outrageous for them to cross the Channel:




Filed under Criminology, History, Nottingham, Science, Twitching, Wildlife and Nature

14 responses to “The Glossy Ibis ; a rare bird in Victorian Nottinghamshire

  1. What an intriguing and beautiful bird. I had no idea such exotic species visited the United Kingdom. Thanks for the post John.

  2. How fascinating. I note it has a long beak, presumably specialised in catching its prey. Odd question but would it be fish? If it’s from the med does it live along river/shorelines? I’m interested to know why it would be in this country!

    • Yes, its beak is an adaptation for catching the fish, tiny frogs and shrimps that it feeds on. Ideally, they like marshes, but they will feed along the side of a river if there is cover, or, as in this recent case in Notts, he was happy enough probing into the grass/mud of a very, very wet field….the sort you wish you had never started crossing in your best trainers!

  3. Hearing that the bird is in France, I had the funniest picture in my mind of it taking the tunnel across the channel.
    Seriously though, it is a lovely creature.
    Have a great evening, John.

    • Thank you very much, I’m glad you enjoyed it. The Channel Tunnel has had serious attempts to get through it. The People Champion were a group of Afghans who made it several miles along the tunnel itself, if I remember correctly. The only successful attempt was by an animal, namely a Red Fox who eventually emerged in England. One creature that could make the trip quite easily might be a butterfly that gets trapped inside one of the train carriages, but that hasn’t been reported yet. Perhaps nobody notices a quiet butterfly!

  4. I wonder if, with the coming of global warming, they might be more common in Britain.

    • I think that they will be a prime candidate to start breeding here in the very near future as more and more of them are seen. So far, we have acquired Cattle Egret and Great White Egret, both of which are birds in Australia as well. Our favourite Australian bird is the Black Swan which escapes regularly from collections and sometimes breeds in the wild.

      • OK, John. A question. Are all white swans mute?

      • No, not at all. Just once in my birdwatching life I have heard a white swan make a noise. It was in spring and it was singing or rather bellowing, as it swam around a pool. The noise was not very bird like, more like the sound a drunk makes as he sings along to a song whose words he does not know. I seem to remember that a swan is supposed to sing only once in its life but then it dies. I can’t really believe that, but I do feel privileged to have heard such a rare sound in nature. In England, of course, your white swans are called “Mute Swans”. Incidentally, all swans do hiss, often in a really scary way. Hollywood used the swan’s hiss as the noise made by the Bride of Frankenstein in the old B/W film.

      • Thank you. Unfortunately I have absolutely no recollection of the noise a drunk makes as he sings along. All I know is I sound bloody brilliant after a couple of beers.

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