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Field of Mars Environmental Education Centre

Field of Mars Environmental Education Centre

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White ibis

White ibis

What are white ibis?

White ibis are native wetland birds and one of three ibis species found in Australia. They have a distinctive black, bald head and white feathers. They range in size from 65 to 75 centimetres. The scientific name for the white ibis is Threskiornis molucca

White ibis are a protected native species and play an important part in the ecosystem. They help to control the populations of insects and grubs. They are also affectionately known as ‘the farmers friend’ because they help control locust plagues.


Where do white ibis live?

White ibis live in Australia’s north and east. Population numbers in Western Australia are also increasing. Natural habitats for white ibis are the freshwater wetlands and marshlands of inland Australia. Due to drought and land clearing, white ibis now populate coastal and urban areas. They have adapted to living in big cities and parklands where they can find an abundance of food and water.


What do white ibis eat?

White ibis are carnivores. They eat a wide variety of terrestrial (land) and aquatic (water) animals. Their preferred diet consists of crayfish, mussels and insects. Frogs, fish, crustaceans, earthworms, snakes and mice are also common prey items in their natural habitat. 

In city environments where their usual prey items are not present, white ibis scavenge for discarded food in rubbish dumps and rubbish bins. They have many nicknames such as ‘bin chicken’ because of this behaviour.


What structural adaptations do white ibis have?

White ibis have nostrils at the base of their beaks so they can breathe as they probe for food in shallow water. Their long curved beaks are perfect for poking through the mud, sand and weeds for prey. White ibis are built for flight. They can fly long distances to nest and breed. Trips up to three thousand kilometres have been recorded!

White ibis have long strong legs, large wings and strong beaks to fight off predators. They display their wings as a show of strength towards other males during the breeding season.


What behavioural adaptations do white ibis have?

White ibis are social birds and roost in trees in large groups. These groups are called colonies and are very noisy! Noisy honking is a form of communication. There may be a disturbance in the nest or young ibis may be communicating hunger.

White ibis have successfully adapted to city environments as their traditional wetland habitats in rural parts of Australia have been drying up. These changes have forced them to colonise places where food, water and habitats are more predictable. They have adapted to these new environments and food sources - such as human food waste - to ensure their survival.


How do white ibis breed and reproduce?

Traditional breeding grounds for white ibis are wetland habitats. The pink skin under their wings becomes red when it is mating season. The female lays 2 to 3 eggs which hatch approximately 22 days later. Both the male and female take turns to look after the eggs. When the eggs hatch, it takes 48 days for the chicks to develop wing feathers that are large enough for flight. White ibis are considered adults at 3 years of age. 

Male ibis will find a tall tree from which to attract a female. When an interested female arrives, the male will bow and offer her a twig. Once accepted, the pair will fly away to look for a suitable tree to nest in. In urban areas they are often seen perched in exotic date palm trees.

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