The Department of Environment and Climate Change NSW calls the ibis “an urban icon” and “a symbol of healthy wetlands,” two descriptions that reveal how this tenacious bird has adapted to Australia‘s changing landscapes.
Three species of ibis—the straw-necked Ibis, the glossy ibis, and the Australian white ibis—are found across northern, eastern, and south-western Australia. The white ibis is often seen in city parks and gardens rummaging in the trash or loitering in al fresco dining areas. This has earned these resourceful scavengers some nicknames: tip turkeys, sandwich snatchers, rubbish raptors, and the ever-popular bin-chickens, to name a few.
But in this video from ABC Science, Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney ecologist Dr. John Martin talks with The Secret Lives Of Our Urban Birds host Dr. Ann Jones about how ibis have adapted their behavior to survive and thrive among human populations.
“Palm trees aren’t natural, so before they came to the cities, Ibis never nested in palm trees in Australia—not a thing. But here we can see—I like to call them the condos of the ibis world—because you’ve just got layers of nests and they circle the palm, and they’re great habitat For ibis.”
The long-beaked birds would normally nest in an open flood plain, catching small fish, amphibians, reptiles, crickets, and other terrestrial and freshwater invertebrates, “but here, in the city,” Martin explains, “they’ve turned palm trees into islands that are safe for them to nest.” And they scavenge from places like stormwater basins, landfills, and trash cans.
Jones then talks with ecologist Kate Brandis, who studies ibis feathers to learn where and how far the birds travel.
“Kate and her team analyzed feathers from all around Australia as a part of the citizen science project called the feather map of Australia… the feathers revealed what birds have eaten and therefore where the birds have been.”
Find more videos from The Secret Lives of Our Urban Birds on YouTube.
Related: Bin chickens: the grotesque glory of the urban ibis – in photos and Hated and misunderstood, the ibis brings an important environmental message.
Plus, more city bird videos on TKSST, including:
• “Are magpies scary or scary smart?” An experiment tests their proactive nature
• Why are there so many pigeons?
• Feathers Gone Viral: The New York City Virus Hunters
• Crow herding with urban falconry in Portland
Bonus: Observing Australia’s Kookaburras, the largest kingfishers in the world.
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