Backyard Buddies
White Ibis

Photo: Rosie Nicolai

White Ibis

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The Australian White Ibis is in many places considered a pest, as a result of their bold behaviour - they are not above sticking their beaks into your lunch if you are sitting in the park. They tend to cluster in groups and it is not unusual to find up to 50 of them gathered on your front lawn.

The White Ibis usually breeds from August through to April, although it does vary from location to location. For instance, ibises in Sydney breed from June to February. The White Ibis breeds for longer when the conditions are right—when there is enough water and food about.

At the start of the breeding season, flocks of male ibises look for good breeding sites. Each male establishes a display territory on a tree branch and becomes noisy and aggressive to other males. You can often hear their loud honking calls from far away.

When a female arrives, all the males will bow deeply from their branches. If a female likes a male, she will sashay closer. The male will fly down to the female and offer her a twig in his beak. If she is really interested, the female will grasp the twig as well, and then they will seal the deal by preening each other.

Ibises raise up to three clutches of babies per breeding season. They take turns sitting on the eggs, and greet each other with deep bows when changing over. Once the eggs have hatched, the chicks will stay with their parents for about 48 days.

You've probably spotted this familiar face (and long, black beak) when you've gone out to enjoy the sun in a local park, at a picnic site or even on your front lawn. Don't write off the ibis because it forages in bins or tips, simply weigh down lids on bins to make the contents inaccessible. You might not like their scavenging ways, but the ibis is a good buddy to have around.

The White Ibis is great at aerating the soil in your lawn, local park and playing field while they're digging around for insects with their long beaks. Not only will ibises help your soil, they also keep insect numbers to a manageable level.

The ibis is a 'farmer's friend' because of its voracious appetite for insects. When huge numbers of locusts appear, ibises help out farmers by eating hundreds and hundreds of them.

Look out for them in the sky - a V shaped formation of birds flying with their necks outstretched is likely to be a flock of ibises, all flapping their wings in unison.

Though ibises may seem very common in some urban areas, their abundance is decreasing in their natural range. A thriving population of ibises shows that the wetland, grassland or estuary they inhabit is healthy. Drought and the diversion of water from inland rivers for irrigation has reduced the ibises' ability to breed in inland wetlands and waterways. This is why it is important that we are buddies to ibises in our towns and suburbs, as they may not have anywhere else to go. 

Tip

Avoid giving ibises your scraps as it will start to make them less wary of people, to the point where they can get greedy and snatch food right out of your hand! Ibises are peaceful birds by nature and will stay away from you if you don't encourage them closer with food. Feeding wild birds can cause an imbalance in their diet, making them and their chicks sick. It's best to let wild birds find their own food.

Did you know?

Many ibises have coloured bands on their legs or tags on their wings. It's not a fashion statement—these bands are for scientists to track individual ibises and keep records of how many birds are in different areas.  One ibis that was tracked by scientists lived for 26 years.

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Quote

”Protecting & safeguarding Australia’s wilderness & wildlife is important for the health and enjoyment for our future generations, thanks FNPW for your support of our project.“

Dr Ricky Spencer – Lead Scientist Murray River Turtle Project, NSW

Photo: OEH