Monday, March 3, 2008

Scarier than a pigeon and just as dirty, it’s the ibis

Not long ago, I sang praises of Sydney’s parks. What I didn’t mention were the parks’ primary residents: Australian white ibises.

I first saw these birds when I was checking out Victoria Park within an hour of arriving in Sydney. They seemed pretty exotic to inhabit the area between Broadway and City Road, but soon I started seeing them everywhere. On campus, in Darling Harbour, Hyde Park... I’ve seen more ibises than pigeons.

Just the other day I realized they sleep on one leg like flamingos.

I did some research and learned that Australian white ibises began to flock to the city during the 80s because of droughts and other problems in their natural habitats. At their urban peak, more than 10,000 ibises nested in Sydney. The population has diminished because they do not seem to be reproducing as before and because governments started taking action. The main culling method is to apply canola oil to the eggs so the embryos can’t get air, rather than killing live ibis.

The birds can be quite a nuisance, especially when you try to picnic — a band of them surrounded my friends and I as we ate lunch in The Domain. Ibises typically eat bugs and small water animals, but have taken a liking to Sydney garbage as well. A lot of people would be glad to be rid of the smelly, dirty birds, but there are also movements to protect the species in the city since they cannot be sustained in other environments.

I’m sure if they just started eating shrimp and turned pink like flamingos, they’d have a lot more supporters.

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