Australian white ibis – Threskiornis molucca – In Praise of the Bin Chicken

An Australian white ibis sitting on a nest

White ibis are much maligned, but I think they’re cute – I mean come on when have you ever seen a beak like that put to so many different uses?

In fact this adaptability has allowed them to move out of their traditional habitats of waterways and grasslands, and now become one of our most well known urban birds.

This is very similar to the way Brush turkey’s have adapted to urban environments as well in the last few decades. White ibis are, after all, just exploiting the habitat we create, and are often seen foraging for food around parks, pedestrian walks ways, rubbish tips, and yes of course bins. They can hardly be blamed for this, and are in fact providing a service to us. In the wild they eat a mixture of invertebrates and vertebrates, and are useful in agricultural areas in helping to keep insect numbers down, but in some inland waterways in the south their numbers are declining.

In Toowoomba V shaped formations of around half a dozen White ibis can regularly be seen flying to and from the waterbird habitat, where they have a large breeding colony. White ibis will also soar on thermals to around 300 metres in height. They breed in spring in southern Australia, and summer and autumn in northern Australia. Breeding individuals can be identified by the stiff white plumes on their neck, and the vibrant scarlet coloured bear patches of skin under their wings that follow the wing bones.

This article first appeared in the High Country Herald on February 6th, 2024