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New Settlers

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Professor Darryl Jones, urban ecologist from Griffith University, outlines how white ibis have adapted to living in Brisbane. Like lots of Australian birds Australian white ibis are nomadic and move wherever the conditions are correct. It was only 15 years ago that the first white ibis turned up in parks in the middle of Brisbane. 

White Ibis in central Brisbane

Brisbane Airport wanted to know if the unwanted ibis there, were coming from a rubbish tip (aka transfer station) 11km away.  The birds had to be tagged somehow but catching them proved unsuccessful. It was then decided to spray 500 of them with dye using cooking colours (which fade quickly) and then tracked for the next month. Half the birds did not even move from the landfill, one went to Rockhampton but none went the 11km to the airport, good news for the transfer station. 


Professor Jones is now working on a new project looking at how they survive in a big city and what they feed on. Living in a city is a completely different prospect to living on the shore or coastal wetlands but the ibis really have made themselves home in Brisbane. You can’t avoid the ibis on Southbank and they will steal sandwiches out of children’s hands. Southbank Corporation want to manage the ibis/human interaction and is a likely citizen science project.

In natural environments they probe with their long beaks to find invertebrates in the mud or insects in the grass. In urban areas ibises use their beaks in a way that nature did not intend. Ibis are incredibly innovative when it comes to finding new ways to get food.
They can prise open a bin with their beaks and hold it open with their feet to forage inside, coordination they don’t use in the natural environment. However, they get 80% of the diet from completely natural resources. They start feeding at first light, walking around the edges of rivers or garden beds and probe with their beaks to get insects, grubs and worms. It is only when they are full that they go looking for snacks (just like humans) and only 3% of their diet is human food.


While the locals don’t like them the tourists do. They take pictures of them and feed them, inadvertently rewarding such behaviour. The Australian White Ibis seem to be the new settlers for Brisbane.

Professor Darryl Jones was interviewed for A Question of Balance by Ruby Vincent. Images from Darryl Jones and Ursula Munro. Summary text by Victor Barry March 2017.

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