What’s Lurking In Your Backyard? – #16 Australian White Ibis

This series looks at the variety of fauna that may be found in the suburban backyard or local reserve and the diversity may be surprising to some people. The obvious fauna are the vast array of birds that are readily seen by day and some by night, but there are numerous species that are nocturnal. Some of these nocturnal species people are familiar with as they tramp across the roof at night with what sounds like hobnail boots on, or they hear fighting in the backyard over food and territory. Others are cryptic and may only be seen infrequently when they enter the house for warmth and shelter. Each week I will highlight a different species that may be found in and around Melbourne’s backyards, parks and reserves, some may be familiar others less so.

#16 Australian White Ibis
(Threskiornis molucca)

The Australian White Ibis is another of our Australian wildlife that has benefited from the expansion of the urban environments, yet has declined within many of its natural habitats as a result of climate changes that have seen the drying up of inland waterways. It has a number of names the “Farmers Friend” being the least derogatory and well deserved as it picks through the fields seeking out food that can attack crops. Its other names stem from its persistence at our landfill sights were it seeks out scraps left behind from our over indulgent lifestyles and tendency to waste food. In these environments it has been given names such as “Tip Turkey” or “Flying Rodent”.

The Australian White Ibis is a large white bird with a black head and neck, with the head being featherless. It has a large curved beak that it can use to seek out food in a variety of situations including the local rubbish bins. During the breeding season the skin on the underside of wings changes to a scarlet colour. People often believe the bird is injured as it looks at a glance to be bleeding.

The Australian White Ibis frequents a wide range of habitats including swamps, lagoons, river flats and farmland, but is absent from the drier regions. It is now a frequent visitor to urban parks and reserves were its will scrounge for food. It has expanded its range into Western Australia, but is absent from Tasmania.

It’s diet is varied as I have already stated it will scrounge for food left by humans in when it gets an opportunity and I have observed them pull plastic bags with food in them from rubbish bins in search of a tasty morsel. Their preferred foods are insects, both terrestrial and aquatic, as well as molluscs and some shellfish.

Breeding usually starts in and around Melbourne in late July early August with the male undertaking a courtship to attract the female. With a suitable site selected the pair will build a large nest of twigs lined with softer material. Nesting usually occurs near water but this is not essential in the urban environment. They will also nest alongside Straw-necked Ibis, which they can often be seen feeding together with in fields. The pair will raise 1-2 broods per year and in a very good year 3 broods can be raised.

As with many birds that frequent our urban environments and interact with humans they often fall foul of our waste and it is not uncommon to see them with injuries associated with being caught up in plastic waste or having plastic still caught around their legs and neck. Disposing of waste correctly will assist in reducing these injuries to all wildlife.

© Habitat Ecology 2012

Australian White Ibis

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