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Ibis and people in parks: who interacts with whom?

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Professor Darryl Jones, urban ecologist and Deputy Director, Environment Futures Research Institute. Griffith University, explains a new survey into urban ibis in Brisbane, one with some surprising results. Ibis have a bad reputation in Brisbane and Sydney as bin pickers and scavengers. There is also an ongoing nuisance level conflict at Brisbane’s Southbank. Ibis seem to have lost any fear of humans in these places, a cause of concern for the restaurant and café owners.

Work done by Honours student Indya Wilson now sheds a light on what is really happening.
Indya spent a whole year surreptitiously watching the interactions between people and ibis in three locations around central Brisbane. She also filmed many interactions and the amount of data makes her results reliable. There were two parts to the project, the first being to quantify and verify the fact that ibis have lost their fear of humans. 

This involved a technique called flight initiation distance. All you do is walk towards the bird and note at what distance from you it moves away. The reactions of city ibis were compared to ones in the suburbs and ones in country areas. There was very clear evidence that the further away from people the ibis live the more likely they are to fly off. Country ibis would fly off when someone was about 30m away whereas ibis in the city would not move unless you were almost standing on them! Indya also discovered an enormous number of different types of interactions between humans and ibis. Some people intentionally feed the ibis, some humans ignore ibis that approach closely and some people get agitated if an ibis is within 100m! The majority of interactions, however, were initiated by humans who actively chose to interact with the birds as close as possible. This behaviour is very different from their scavenging reputation and may be because Southbank has a lot of tourists, both national and international, so a lot of these people have never seen a big bird like an ibis in public parks.

Indya also categorised the outcomes of each interaction as positive, negative or neutral. A positive one was mutually agreeable to both, an example of a negative one would be a child trying to keep its food safe from the ibis and a neutral one would be just walking past each other.
Surprisingly the absolute majority of outcomes of interactions were classified as positive, where both bird and human were happy with what occurred.
India also filmed dozens of examples of humans (presumably tourists) taking selfies with an ibis! 


The ibis have learnt to adapt to life in the cities showing they are smart, can learn quickly and have lost their fear of humans. Indya Wilson really has produced a bird’s-eye view of city ibis. 


Did You Know? Every day about 2,000 ibis wander around on the grass where the planes are landing at Brisbane Airport. Not a single one has been involved in a birdstrike.


Professor Darryl Jones was interviewed for A Question of Balance by Ruby Vincent. Images by Indya Wilson Summary text by Victor Barry August 2017. 

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