kids encyclopedia robot

Australian white ibis facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Quick facts for kids
Australian white ibis
Threskiornis molucca - Perth.jpg
Conservation status
Scientific classification
  • T. m. moluccus (Australasian white ibis)
  • T. m. pygmaeus (Solomons white ibis)

Threskiornis moluccus

The Australian white ibis (Threskiornis molucca) is a wading bird of the ibis family, Threskiornithidae. It is widespread across much of Australia. It has a predominantly white plumage with a bare, black head, long downcurved bill and black legs. Its sister species is the sacred ibis.

Historically rare in urban areas, the Australian white ibis has migrated to urban areas of the east coast in increasing numbers since the late 1970s; it is now commonly seen in Wollongong, Sydney, Melbourne, the Gold Coast, Brisbane and Townsville. In recent years the bird has also become increasingly common in Perth, Western Australia, and surrounding towns in south-western Australia. Populations have disappeared from natural breeding areas such as the Macquarie Marshes in northern New South Wales. Management plans have been introduced to control problematic urban populations in Sydney.

Due to its increasing presence in the urban environment and its habit of rummaging in garbage, the species has acquired a variety of colloquial names such as "tip turkey" and "bin chicken", and in recent years has become an icon of popular culture, being regarded "with passion, wit, and, in equal measure, affection and disgust".

It is known as mardungurra among the Yindjibarndi people of the central and western Pilbara.


Australian White Ibis head
The feathered head and neck of a juvenile
White Ibis June09 03
In flight, red skin visible under wings

The Australian white ibis is a fairly large ibis species, around 65–75 cm (26–30 in) long and has a bald black head and neck and a long black downcurved beak, measuring over 16.7 cm (6.6 in) in the male, and under in the female. There is some sexual dimorphism in size, as the slightly heavier male weighs 1.7–2.5 kg (3.7–5.5 lb) compared to the 1.4–1.9 kg (3.1–4.2 lb) female. As a comparison, the American white ibis generally attains 1 kg (2.2 lb) in weight. The body plumage is white although it may become brown-stained. Inner secondary plumes are displayed as lacy black "tail" feathers. The upper tail becomes yellow when the bird is breeding. The legs and feet are dark and red skin is visible on the underside of the wing. Immature birds have shorter bills. The head and neck are feathered in juveniles.

The call is a long croak.

The Australian white ibis reaches sexual maturity in three years, and can reach twenty-eight years of age.

Distribution and habitat

Threskiornis molucca -Coolart Wetlands, Mornington Peninsula, Australia-8
Adult at Coolart Wetlands, Mornington Peninsula, Australia

The Australian white ibis is widespread in eastern, northern and south-western Australia. It occurs in marshy wetlands, often near open grasslands and has become common in Australian east-coast city parks and rubbish dumps in the urban areas of Wollongong, Sydney, Perth, the Gold Coast, Brisbane and Townsville. Historically it was rare in urban areas; the first influx was noted after drought drove birds eastwards in the late 1970s. The urban population further increased after a further period of drought in 1998. The first big colony set up in the Sydney suburb of Bankstown and started to cause anxiety in the local community. It is estimated the colony was the largest outside the Macquarie Marshes, their natural breeding wetland in inland NSW.

There has been debate in recent years over whether to consider them a pest or a possibly endangered species. Birds in tourist areas of Sydney, such as Darling Harbour, the Royal Botanic Gardens, and Centennial Park, have been a problem due to their strong smell. Populations in the latter two areas have been culled. The birds have also come to be regarded as a problem species in Victoria as a result of their scavenging activities, scattering rubbish from tips and bins in the process. They are even known to snatch sandwiches from picnickers. Such behaviour, together with their propensity to build nests in "inappropriate" places, and competition with captive animals, led to surplus birds being relocated from Healesville Sanctuary to Sale. However, the birds returned in a few days.

The Macquarie Marshes in north-western New South Wales was one of the main areas for breeding, but none has been reported breeding there since 2000, from 11,000 pairs in 1998. The species is absent from Tasmania.


Threskiornis molucca -Coolart Wetlands, Mornington Peninsula, Australia -nest and eggs-8
Nesting at Coolart Wetlands, Mornington Peninsula, Australia
Threskiornis molucca -Coolart Wetlands, Mornington Peninsula, Australia -juveniles -nest-8 (1)
Juveniles on nests


The Australian white ibis' range of food includes both terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates and human scraps. The most favoured foods are crayfish and mussels, which the bird obtains by digging with its long bill.


Breeding season varies with the location within Australia, generally August to November in the south, and February to May, after the wet season, in the north. The nest is a shallow dish-shaped platform of sticks, grasses or reeds, located in trees and generally near a body of water such as river, swamp or lake.

Ibises commonly nest near other waterbirds such as egrets, herons, spoonbills or cormorants. Two to three dull white eggs are laid measuring 65 mm × 44 mm. The clutch is then incubated for 21–23 days. Hatchlings are altricial, that is, they are naked and helpless at birth, and take 48 days to fledge.

kids search engine
Australian white ibis Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.