The native ibis, with it’s handsome black and white ensemble and long beak, is the picture of grace when in flight. The fly in formation, just like in a movie. Gorgeous things. Are you shaking your head yet? Perhaps picturing the much-maligned “bin chicken” rooting through the rubbish bins in a city lane way? Maybe remembering the time a “tip turkey” nicked off with your sandwich? Here’s the thing, though. The ibis seems to be the latest thing we love to hate, judging by all the memes and songs, but actually, they’re kind of amazing. They’re so much more than the “picnic-wrecking fuck” that this song describes them as.
What’s to love?
So much. Did you know that the ibis is totally old-school when it comes to love? The male has to find a nice high branch and scare off all the other blokes. Then he has to make a lot of noise and carry on like a pork chop until the female deigns to pay attention to him. Then (this is my favourite bit) the male bows to the female and offers her a stick. If she’s keen, she grabs the stick, they preen each other and that’s it! It’s the equivalent of Facebook official after the bow-stick-preen ceremony. Romance is alive and well for these guys and I love that.
But why are they suddenly everywhere?
That is a fair question. Growing up, I don’t remember seeing ibises with anywhere near the frequency that I do now. I saw plenty of birds, but not the trademark bald, black heads, long beaks and white plumage. When I was a kid, we’d go to places that had mangroves and you saw them there. You didn’t see them raiding the rubbish bags behind restaurants. They weren’t popping out of skip bins in lane ways. It wasn’t the humble ibis you had to watch out for in city parks- that was the turf of gulls and hopeful pigeons, not birds that were big enough to be a bit threatening and brave enough to take the vegemite sanga right out of your hand. My, how times have changed.
Now, there are memes and songs dedicated to the pesky urban ibis and it’s totally socially acceptable to hate on them. In fact, in January this year, a guy in Brisbane decided to catch and strangle an ibis. I don’t know what his reasoning was, but he then went on to menace people in a park with the body. And for every response on social media condemning what was a fairly vicious act of animal cruelty, there were comments like these:
But the reality is that the bird everyone wants to hate on has become a pervasive presence in our suburbs and cities because of us.
No more wetlands
Ibises dig living in wetlands. They have that snazzy long beak to help them catch food in marshy areas. They’re into hanging out in trees in their communities. But drought and people have screwed that up for them. Development, pollution and practices like diverting water from inland rivers for irrigation or agriculture have destroyed much of their natural habitat. It’s all well and good to label them “vermin” but we are the reason they are in urban areas. Which leads me to the main reason I love the ibis.
It’s a goddamn survivor.
Another species might not have adapted in the way the ibis has. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t see walk past an ibis making the most of someone’s half-eaten kebab on a Sunday morning and want to pat and cuddle it. But I don’t feel the disgust or hatred that so many people seem to feel. I feel sad because they shouldn’t be in our cities and towns. It’s a huge red flag and I wonder what kind of world our grand-kids will inherit. But the other thing I feel for the ibis? Fucking respect.
Seriously. We have helped to trash their environment so they’ve joined us in ours and managed to make it work. They don’t have that glossy white plumage they might have had in the wetlands because they’ve been forced to scavenge through human refuse to keep on living. The poor buggers are grubbing through bins and wandering through picnickers in an effort to keep their species going. The ibis is as fucking tough as nails. Evolution in action. There’s a lot to admire right there.