In Defence Of The Bin Chicken

Image: iStock

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.

Image: Christopher Wicox

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

WATCH MORE: Science & Health News


    Maybe Taronga Zoo could fund a Bin Chicken Awareness Week.

    What rubbish. It may not be healthy being a dumpster diver but it is absolutely their preferred habitat.

    I live on one of the healthiest rivers on the East Coast of Australia (Noosa River) huge swaths of swamp land and national parks are within a few kilometres of the rubbish dump... guess what, that's still where they congregate.

    I also would like peer reviewed research and scientific calculations indicating they have a vital role in the ecosystem.

    Not just the opinion of an 'expert' otherwise known as somebody who has a direct correlation between job security/funding and whether they report a problem or not.

      I'd like peer reviewed research and scientific calculations on your counterclaim that the birds prefer urban environments. Not just the opinion of a random nobody guest on a gadget website.

        Ah yes. Because it's always more important to prove there isn't a teapot revolving around the sun than to prove that there is one (see Russell's teapot). Such impeccable logic.

        "it's not the way it wants to live" Yeah sure so Rae Johnston is apparently an Ibis whisperer now? Why isn't she working as our facilitator of Ibis-Human relations? Ah journalism, the job where everyone can pretend to be experts after 10 minutes of google and can conjure up an opinion out of thin air which of course is never balanced. All for that "feel good" feeling that they think they've done something meaningful

          You either didn't read the conversation or you don't understand logic as well as you think you do. I didn't ask him to prove a negative, he made a specific assertion that ibis prefer urban environments:

          It may not be healthy being a dumpster diver but it is absolutely their preferred habitat.

          The rest of your post seems to be little more than ad hominem, so I'm going to go with "you don't understand logic as well as you think you do".

            It's you that has trouble with logic. The article asserted one thing. A simple observation showed that, in one case at least, the opposite is true.

            It's not up to him to prove a negative but you to prove a positive.

      Yep, they sure did want to evolve to eat from a bin.
      Its attitudes like yours that makes me fear for wildlife in this country.

        Um, most birds are scavengers and they'll eat from wherever they can get food from. Tips are like supermarkets to them.

    This is in regard to my above comment:

    I'm not for a second they should be harmed or killed. I've rehabilitated two that I found injured on my property.

    I just have a strong hate for sensationalism.

      I think you've got a skewed idea of what sensationalism is, to be honest. I've not stated anything here that isn't common knowledge to conservation organisations and those working with the Ibis in a rehabilitative capacity.

      They have adapted to urban environments, and to the diet they are known for now. This does not mean it is "preferred" in the sense that you're referring to - it's like the parrots that get a sugar rush from packets left on cafe tables. It's the new normal, but it is in no way healthy for them, or their natural diet.

      I'll also do a follow-up with journal-published papers of ecosystem studies in natural Ibis habitats, if you need it. This was a simple reactionary overview, not intended to be a an in-depth resource, but if there's demand, I can commit the time.

        Don't take the bait Rae, these sorts of viewpoints don't even deserve the air used to form the words.

        Its the typical 'top of the food chain' mentality that some people seem to laud their entire lives, as though anything not equal to isn't worth a second thought.

        Sometimes its worth fighting, but its worth even more not giving these people a voice.

      I really feel that the "sensationalism" is in your reply, not Rae's article.

    I live right next to a Heritage listed park, complete with a small dam and wetlands. Heaps of Ibis birds live there and are never seen dumpster diving. This is how they naturally are.

    I logged in (a huge effort on my part I know), just to give a thumbs up for this article.

    I have quite a few Ibis' living near my house which is close to the water. They are peaceful and lovely birds.

    i dont get the bad rap. i quite like them, but i remember only ever seeing them around wetlands not just 10 years ago. sad that they have to resort to bin diving for easy food. but, i guess they are just the new seagulls really, seagulls caught on about how easy it is to get food from human waste receptacles, now the Ibis does too.
    i fucking hate seagulls though. still like Ibis, for now...

    I don't hate them, but they do act a bit pest at times (depending on where you live). I've never had any issues with them bugging me personally, but I've seen them hanging around at picnics trying to steal people's food before.
    I have a vacant lot outside my back door, and I regularly have 3 Ibis' that visit and hunt around for worms in the grass. One of them has a busted left foot, and kind of hobbles around (his foot is folded under itself so it faces backwards). It's obviously an old injury, as I've been here for a couple of years at least, and it's been that way since I first saw it, and it doesn't appear to be in pain (apart from perhaps the pain of simply walking around on essentially a stump.) Occasionally that one will show up on its own, and I'll toss a piece of bread out to it. Never comes expecting to get bread though. If it did, I'd stop it to get rid of it, but I can't help but feel a little sorry for it.
    Still, when I see stuff like this I can't help but have a chuckle, cos I know what they CAN be like ;)

    I don't know why they call the 'bin chickens'. They taste nothing like chicken when roasted.

      Because they taste like bins, but look like chickens.

      Ah, moron humour, knew it would happen eventually in this thread...

    I'm pretty sure it's a path of least resistance... why trample around swampy mudflats all day for a few morsels when you can hang out in Post Office Square (Brisbane) and pinch lunch off unsuspecting office workers.

    I live in the suburbs, and we have 30-40 Ibis walking around our local footy park. Don't know where they come from every morning, but they are always around.

    The Ibis is a beautiful bird. We're lucky to have them.

    Anyway, I thought they were known as 'trash turkeys'. But seriously, looking at healthy ones shows how badly misrepresented the ibis is.

      Definitely republished. Mostly because there's a new poll up to decide the bird of the year, and the Ibis is currently sitting on top. So defending what many see as an ugly scavenging pest was probably seen as being worth reusing.

      Let them win. Then maybe Taronga Zoo will take my idea on board :)

      Yep! It's republished, and slightly updated, too, with information about the new poll. I did put a note about that at the bottom, but it's easy to miss :)

    Nothing wrong with BIn Chickens. They're fine, just looking.for s feed. People diss their feeding habits, but no worse than our Maccas, KFC, or Burger King, which is a large part of Ibis' diet also.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now