Bin chickens

I love Australian birds: there are so many different and very beautiful birds. The most iconic one probably being the kookaburra; famous for its crazy laughing sound. Here in Sydney there’s a bird that’s particularly well-known, and equally unpopular. Unlike the colourful, elegant birds such as the superb fairy wrens, the rainbow lorikeet or the sulfur-crested cockatoo which can often be found on postcards or t-shirts, this bird can be found all the way down the pecking order. You can see them all over the city, often scavenging for scraps to eat. They are like the pigeons found in big cities in Europe. It’s the Australian white ibis, commonly known as the ‘bin chicken’.

An Australian white ibis sitting on a bin down my street.

I get where the nickname comes from, but I find it painful to hear and I don’t like to call it this way. Something inside me feels sorry for this bird. It is a strange sight to see them sitting on top of a bin, so I decided to look into the reason behind this behaviour. As it turns out, this bird is another victim of habitat destruction and climate change induced droughts. Apparently, a generation ago these birds were a rare sight in cities, but from the 1980’s they started breeding in Sydney. As a result of these changes to their natural habitat, these water-dependant birds moved from inland wetlands to the coast. Now there are an estimated 10,000 Australian white ibis calling Sydney their home, while the population in their natural ranges has dramatically declined.

The typical features of ibis make them well-adapted to city life. Their large bodies make them too big to be preyed upon by cats. Their beak has a sensory tip, which they normally push into to mud in search of invertebrates such as mussels and crayfish. In the city, it’s a perfect tool to open take-away food containers that are now overflowing in every bin as a result of the covid lockdown.

Not all birds can adapt to city life like this. Humans are fucking up the planet, and it has a negative impact on a lot of plants and animals. Ibis may consider themselves one of the lucky ones, as they have been able to move into new habitat, change their behaviour and thrive in this new environment. So instead of looking at an ibis and seeing it as this filthy, garbage-digging bird, I would like everyone in Sydney to realise what kind of conservation message they actually bring. Ibis are only here because their home is no longer suitable for their needs, all as a result of human actions. In the meantime, I will keep calling them the Australian white ibis.

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