Nearly everyone would be familiar with the shape of an ibis. Even in silhouette, its form is instantly recognisable. It is easy to understand how such a bird became an icon of the early Egyptians.
In Australia, the most well known species of ibis is the Australian white ibis. It can be identified in the field by its size of 65cms to 75cms, its white feathered body and wings, its black naked upper neck and head, and its long black down-curved bill. There are horizontal pink bars across the back of the neck. The rump and tail are white. However, black inner secondary wing plumes give the illusion of a black tail. When breeding, it displays red skin along the bones of the underwings and the pink bars across the back of the neck become more distinctive.
The Australian white ibis belongs to a family of birds known as Threskiornithidae. Other members in this family are the straw-necked ibis, glossy ibis, yellow-billed spoonbill and royal spoonbill. During the breeding season, Australian white ibises nest in colonies with other ibis species, spoonbills, egrets, herons and cormorants. Stick nests are made in trees near the water or on the ground in wetlands.
Australian white ibises are widespread throughout Australia and can be found in pastures, urban parks, rubbish dumps and most wetland environments. They feed by touch with their long probing bills. Their diet consists mainly of aquatic creatures and insects such as grasshoppers.
I have seen Australian white ibises at several locations along the Fleurieu Peninsula including Encounter Bay, the Hindmarsh River Estuary, the Port Elliot wetlands, Hindmarsh Island and the Coorong. On Hindmarsh Island, they are often in the company of straw-necked ibises. This species can be recognised by its straw-like neck plumes and black iridescent wings.
Written by Ann Somerville-Charles (artist, composer and poet) of Victor Harbor.