Studying 'trashy lives' of region's ibis

Published 6:00am 17 January 2023

Studying 'trashy lives' of region's ibis
Words by Nick Crockford

Smelly, noisy, messy - Australia’s native white ibis is a bird with a bad reputation. 

However, a study is now using the Moreton Bay Region to get a better understanding of our ‘bin chickens’ ... and it wants your help.

University of the Sunshine Coast researchers and Moreton Bay Regional Council are looking at how ibis breed, feed, move in urban areas and if rubbish tips are key to their survival.

The survey - at colonies including Centenary Lakes, Caboolture – will see up to 500 birds caught and tagged, with some also having GPS tracking devices. 

Residents and visitors are asked to report sightings of ibis with the bright pink or blue tags using a free citizen science app ‘Big City Birds’. They can even choose a name for the bird.

Studying 'trashy lives' of region's ibis

Lead researcher Dr Dominique Potvin says it is part of a larger UniSC project using blood samples and other measurements in the hope ibis, also called ‘dump ducks’ and ‘tip turkeys’, will give up more secrets.

Once found in inland wetlands, this protected species has developed into a bold, opportunistic scavenger in urban streets, parks and rubbish dumps.

“The Australian white ibis is a common species across cities and towns all over Australia, with dense numbers occupying urban centres, however, almost nothing is known about how it is affected by different environmental variables,” Dr Potvin said.

Using the Moreton Bay Region, researchers are looking at what affects ibis colony sizes, genetic diversity, bloodlines and health of the birds.

Studying 'trashy lives' of region's ibis

Over the next year, the team will visit more than 30 breeding sites, once every two months, to collect observational data, including number of nests, eggs, juveniles and adults.

Dr Potvin said the research will fill knowledge gaps about the birds and identify breeding hotspots to help Council develop a white ibis management strategy.

“Breeding and feeding sites for Australian white ibis occur within densely-populated human centres, creating or magnifying potential conflict between the birds and the community due to their colony noise, smell and the damage they cause to local vegetation,” she said.

“We want to find out what is the optimal breeding habitat for these birds and where do these occur in the Moreton Bay region.

“Are Australian white ibis in the region residential or mitigatory and what are the population demographics and meta-population dynamics?

Studying 'trashy lives' of region's ibis

“Do the birds breed in the same locations year after year, what is the reproductive rate at different sites and are rubbish tips really are the key to their survival in the urban landscape.”

Moreton Bay Regional Council’s strategy includes manipulating urban habitats and restricting artificial food supplies in the ibis breeding season.

“While there is a beauty in all things, their numbers have grown rapidly in urban areas, earning themselves a title of being a nuisance for residents and workers,” Mayor Peter Flannery said.

“The work we’re doing with the help of the University of the Sunshine Coast could become world-leading research to help manage their numbers in urban areas and offer some insight into how we can better protect their natural habitat.”

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