The Guardian are currently running a poll to find Australia’s favourite bird and, perhaps surprisingly, the Australian White Ibis is sitting
pretty ugly, at the top.
Some people aren’t all that happy about that and sure, I get it, they creepily stare at you while you eat and then scrabble for your scraps. But I put to you what has become a controversial opinion, backed up by facts: they don’t deserve the hate.
The Australian White Ibis, also known as the “bin chicken”, “dump chook”, “trash vulture”, “Bankstown bin diver”, “garbage flier”, “winged waste lizard”, “refuse raptor”, “dreg-beaked scrap fowl”, “detritus drake”, “bottom-feeder biddy” or “tip turkey”, gets a pretty bad rap.
You may have seen this faux-doco doing the rounds:
Funny, yes – but what it failed to mention is that this hasn’t always been the way the Ibis lives. And it’s not the way it wants to live.
The preferred habitat for the Ibis is swamps, grasslands, wetlands, parks, beaches and mudflats – where they happily munch on crustaceans, insects, frogs, fish and snails. Ibis are great for our gardens and our farmers – taking care of bugs and locust plagues. Ibis also have sweet, polite personalities when courting each other – the male will give a low bow towards the female and gift her with a literal stick (it’s a nice thing for Ibis, okay?).
The Ibis is protected under State Wildlife Legislation (the Nature Conservation Act 1992, to be exact). Experts say their long-term conservation is necessary for maintaining the variety of all plants and animals.
But the biggest reason we should look upon our long-beaked friends with more kindness? It’s our fault that they are bothering us. We destroyed their natural habitat. They’ve had to try and adapt to ours.
They don’t want to eat out of bins. But after being forced out of its natural habitat, the Ibis has been forced to become dependent on our food waste. It’s unhealthy for them – that’s why they often look so “scrappy”. They are passing on diseases like salmonellosis. It’s not okay for them, or us.
But “Bin Chicken” abuse is not okay, and thinking of the Ibis as deserving of our hate is what leads to the birds being seriously injured and even killed by people who view them as a pest. It is a serious offence to harm an Ibis.
So what can you do?
Don’t feed any Ibis that you see. Don’t leave food scraps around. Use spotlights to discourage birds from nesting near your home – but don’t disturb them if there are babies in the nest. Plant native trees.
And work with your local conservation foundation to help restore wetlands.
Let’s get the “Bin Chicken” away from the bins, and back where it belongs.
Right at the top of the list of Australia’s favourite birds.
This story was originally published in May 2017, but with the vote happening now – well, we had to bring it up again. – Rae