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The Australian White Ibis wing tag research in Sydney

Play  The Sydney wing tag survey of Australian White Ibis  wsjmibis017.mp3  
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Dr John Martin, wildlife ecologist at the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney, outlines a citizen science project with a focus on the Australian white ibis. The Wingtag project started in 2008 but there had been banding of birds for eight years before that. Wing tags are better than leg bands because they are more visually obvious and it is easier to remember a three digit number and one colour. Sightings can be reported using the same app used so successfully with the Royal Australian Botanic Gardens in Sydney study of Sulphur crested cockatoos (Google wingtag) on an Apple or android phone. Photos can also be included. Different birds have different strategies to get food. Those in Hyde Park and the Royal Botanic Gardens get all their food from those small green spaces and don’t move from those sites. Other birds fly 30km to a landfill site because the food resources they provide are so rich.

The ibis known as the Farmer’s Friend are more often straw-necked ibis which are well known for eating plague locusts. The Australian white ibis, (which is also an Australian native but was formerly incorrectly thought to be an exotic species, the African sacred ibis) is more known for foraging in the water column more and is associated with wetlands rather than grasslands. It is still recovering from this incorrect labelling as an alien species and therefore competition with our own wildlife. While locals may dislike the boldness of some ibis in parks, they are quite thrilling for our international visitors who can so easily approach and feed these elegant birds in public parks!

Juvenile AWI (Jaime Plaza)
After a lot of rain there can be as many as 20,000 straw-necked ibis in place like the Macquarie Marshes in western NSW. Within them could also be 1,000 Australian white ibis nests. Before the 1980s there were much larger numbers of Australian white ibis in those natural wetlands. However there has been a decline in the amount of habitat in the years between good floods so the Australian white ibis made the shift to where there is good habitat regularly, the coast and urban areas. 

Image from Dr Andrew Smith click here for story and webpage

There is a lot of water in those urban areas (water features, recreated wetlands, creeks, rivers) and sports fields are popular particularly when it’s raining. The birds have even adapted to nesting in Canary Island date palms. People also see them scavenging from bins and in landfill sites so their diet is a mixture of natural sources (worms, beetle larvae) anthropogenic sources like chips and sandwiches.

AWI Jaime Plaza

A study of Australian White Ibis by Kim Low at Healsville Sanctuary showed there is extra pair coupling and birds will start a new clutch with a new mate. In urban context the colonies can be up to 1,000 birds but they are usually a lot of smaller, with10-20 nests in one palm tree. There is competition for mating partners but fighting among them is not common. There are 2-3 eggs in a nest, most of which successfully fledge. 

Dr John Martin was interviewed for A Question of Balance by Ruby Vincent. Summary text by Victor Barry March 2017.

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Sulphur Crested Cockatoo and Australian White Ibis Brush Turkey join the Wingtags flock

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