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Wednesday, 01 November 2017 14:56

Ibis – please don’t let me be misunderstood!

About 3500 Ibis are currently nesting at Macleod Morass, creating a cocoon of chaos around their incredibly cute, fluffy chicks, as they go about the daily business of ensuring their successful path to adulthood. BirdLife Australia’s project officer for East Gippsland, Deb Sullivan, is working hard on a project with her team to monitor the rookery and learn as much as possible about the local population of the birds. Of the estimated 3500, she says the majority are straw-necked ibis, along with Australian white ibis. “Through our monitoring of the rookery we are observing not just total population of the colony but the recruitment and predation of it. This includes introduced predators, as well as native species such as swamp harriers and white bellied sea eagles,” Ms Sullivan said. “Colonies such as these are also a trigger for royal spoonbills to initiate nesting among the mayhem of the Ibis. “The Macleod Morass rookery has a small number of nesting Royal Spoonbills intertwined.” Sounds lovely, right? Mother Nature at her best. Or are you simply shuddering at the mere mention of the word ‘Ibis’? Ibis are widely spurned as bin birds that scavenge among our refuse and spread their germs and disease wherever they go.

So how did this native bird species come to be so misunderstood? Highly adaptive and mobile, the Ibis began the move to coastal urbanised areas in the 1970s when large areas of their natural habitat of inland wetlands were lost through changed waterflows and urbanisation. Since then, the birds have become a pest in some urban areas, especially in their busy spring breeding season, largely due to the opportunistic feeding (or scavenging) behaviour that they largely depend on. “White Ibis have certainly leant themselves to being known as ‘tip turkeys’ thanks to their opportunistic scavenging behaviour. They are often seen scrounging for food in local refuse sites and under café tables,” Ms Sullivan said. “They have embraced inner city lifestyle. Sadly, the behaviour of these birds and their choices of urbanised nesting locations has been considered a problem in some areas, and a variety of different methods has been used to control numbers. “Several species of Ibis that were once common in other countries are now either near to extinction or locally extinct.” Ms Sullivan said straw-necked Ibis, were less likely to be seen in tips or haunting diners in urban locations. “They prefer to forage for food in paddocks and on lawns. They have a liking for locusts, grasshoppers and snails to name a few. “These same food sources are often a pest to landholders, causing problems with crops and pasture,” she said. Today, Ibis rely upon the health of Macleod Morass for their breeding season. “Like many species, Ibis rely on inland waterways like Macleod Morass, to nest and forage.” BirdLife East Gippsland received Gippsland Lakes Community Grants for three projects that will help a range of local and migratory bird species.