More than a bin chicken: ibis on the move in bird breeding event

In the past 30 years, there have been significant declines in populations of all of our waterbirds, including ibis species in south-eastern Australia.

With flowing rivers and conditions warming up, ibis have been busy checking out nesting and foraging sites in the lower Lachlan and Murrumbidgee (Lowbidgee) rivers around Booligal, Hay and Balranald.

Some of us may only know ibis as 'bin chickens' or 'tip turkeys', but these birds also play an important part in our wetland and agricultural ecosystems.

Along with the Australian White ibis (or 'bin chicken'), there are two other species that roam our waterways: the Straw-necked ibis and Glossy ibis.

Straw-necked ibis can be distinguished from White ibis by their black backs and wings and distinctive straw-like feathers at the front of their necks.

The Glossy ibis is much smaller and is a mixture of reddish brown and iridescent green-and purple in colour.

Glossy ibis live in shallow wetlands throughout inland NSW using their long-curved bill to feed on frogs, snails and aquatic insects.

People in the Central West around Cowra and Forbes may have recently noticed the increased activity of Straw-necked ibis in their paddocks, parks and playing fields.

Sometimes known as the 'Farmers Friend', they love to gorge on grasshoppers and locusts that threaten crops.

They depend on healthy wetlands to build their nests, and unlike their cousins, the White ibis, these birds are not likely to be found raiding backyard bins and avoid humans.

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With more water around, ibises are beginning an important nesting ritual - trampling.

The 'trampling' stage of nesting occurs when waterbirds begin to construct their nests, squashing wetland plants like lignum shrubs to create a soft and protected home for their chicks.

Water naturally filling wetlands may encourage bird breeding events, but if wetlands dry out too quickly, the birds will be unable to successfully complete their breeding cycle.

To delay the time it takes for wetlands to dry out, water for the environment is used to 'top-up' the wetland and maintain breeding conditions, finishing what nature has begun.

Waterbirds in the Lachlan have already started breeding, and while it is early days, we have our fingers crossed for a large-scale breeding event in the Lachlan or Lowbidgee wetlands this year.

Stay tuned to keep an eye on how waterbird breeding is tracking this season or get in touch for more information.

  • Michele Groat is the local engagement officer, Central Basin Section, for the Commonwealth Environmental Office