Bin chicken: more than just trash talk
Australia has a long and proud list of iconic birds, from the black swan to the kookaburra, galah and our flightless friend, the emu.
But in recent years, one bird has flown into the Australian spotlight. It’s featured in songs, videos and even on t-shirts. And although not always positive, this curved-beak bird is hard to ignore. It is the Australian white ibis; commonly known as the ‘bin chicken’.
Unlike the elegant or harmonic birds that feature in gift shops and on national emblems, the ibis has been sent to the bottom of the pecking order. Labelled as disgusting scavengers, they’ve been associated with other nuisance birds like pigeons, seagulls and magpies.
To celebrate National Bird Week running from 21–28 October here are some little known and supportive facts about our Threskiornis molucca.
There is more than one ibis
When most people think of an ibis they think of the long black beaks sitting on the edge of a bin finding a scrap to eat. This particular ibis is the Australian white ibis and is the face of the modern bin chicken movement. However, it is not the only ibis to call Australia home – there’s also the straw-necked Ibis and the glossy Ibis.
Unlike its city-dwelling cousin, the straw-necked ibis has earned itself a favourable nickname. Known as ‘farmers’ friend’, this black-feathered ibis prefers to live rurally and feeds on grasshoppers and locusts that often plague Australian crops.
The glossy ibis is unlikely to be scavenging through the trash as it prefers wetlands and swamps. As the name suggests, the feathers on the glossy ibis have a metallic sheen, appearing black from a distance.
They are romantic
Watching your potential mate dumpster dive for an old sandwich might not be the most romantic gesture. But it doesn’t mean this rubbish rodent isn’t also a Romeo.
During mating season (September to April), a male ibis will attract a female by bowing from his bin, then offering her a twig. If she accepts the gift, they immediately forge a bond and will fly off to build a nest together.
They are one of us
Despite not being popular in WA before the 1950s, the Australian white ibis is actually native to the country. The species migrated from interior wetlands to our urban environments when their habitats started to diminish in the 1970s. Since then they have adapted rapidly to become our bin juice drinking housemates.
From a taxonomy level, it is a close cousin to the ‘Sacred Ibis’ found in Africa which was once worshipped by ancient Egyptians through the god Thoth.
- 40% of Australian white ibis’ eat at landfills every day.
- The Yindjibarndi people of the central and western Pilbara refer to this bird as Mardungurra.
- In 2018, authorities in Perth ordered a cull of 100 of the ‘pest birds’ that they said posed a risk to planes and passengers.
National Bird Week aims to celebrate and inspire Australians about all the winged creatures that make up our environment. Organised by BirdLife Australia, this year, they are asking the public to take part in the Aussie Backyard Bird Count.