The ibis is objectively the most disgusting of all birds. While it might have been revered by ancient Egyptians as divine, in Australia we fully understand them to be the lowest of the low in a highly competitive pecking order of grubby, filthy garbage-eaters. 

The ibis is somehow worse than the pigeon, worse than the seagull, worse even than the hideous bush turkey. They are a useless, horrible bird and I have absolutely no time for them.

Australian Geographic‘, however, disagrees – in their own words:

“Usually the butt of jokes and objects of revulsion, it’s time we started listening to the message of the Australian white ibis.”

As a reasonable, logical man I assumed that the message of the ibis would be “I’m bloody fanging for some trash, open the lid on your wheelie bin mate I’m running on fumes.” but, no, apparently the nasty, crescent-nosed beast is something of a canary in the coal mine for how badly we’re managing our rubbish.

They make a crack at describing the ibis in a way that doesn’t them sound disgusting but, uh, it still does:

“Formally the Australian white ibis (Threskiornis molucca), they are striking birds, large and cream coloured, muck-stained as they stride down the street, leaping onto bin rims with defiant integrity and dunking their bald, wrinkled heads into unknown waste.

“Their face tapers to a bizarre curved beak often lost in a saucy kebab wrapper. They strut about on long legs and toes, scaly and leprous like their heads. Making them stranger yet, their tails are adorned with frayed black feathers, while the undersides of their wings bear a red-raw streak of arm.

“And yet, the public seem most offended by their nests – a honking, squawking mess in the canopy of street-side palms.”

Look, I will concede that they are interesting, but if you’re going to describe an animal exclusively in terms of how it thrives in trash, it’s not exactly going to sound exotic.

Traditionally meatatarians, these garbagehawks have switched their diets to the easiest, most carby thing available to them – our garbage:

“Rubbish is a staple for ibis, and in a sense, their colourful street names — bin chicken, trash turkey — mean more than we realise. A study monitored ibis for three days in Sydney and found that 40-50 per cent of birds fed from landfill daily; our excess has become fuel for the birds, allowing them to turn our waste into more baby ibis. With such decadence to live off, ibis are proliferating. 

“More and more palm trees are becoming nests, stinky and noisy, and in some councils they must be ‘managed’. Our trash has manifested into walking, squawking animals and we don’t like it.”

So far, not a very strong defence of the bent-nosed rubbish vulture, but there’s a twist to this morality tale:

“That familiar stench drifting from ibis nests? It’s not the smell of the birds, but of our own rubbish, our neglectful and disposable decisions coming home to roost. Ibis are a pungent indicator of our vast environmental footprint: they’re our smelly canaries.”

Whoa. Disgusting – but still, whoa. They talk about the mixed rap (mostly bad) that these bottom-feeding trash doves get from people:

“And for all the disgust and jokes cast at them, they wield a great social leverage – each year in October, hundreds participate in the ibis census, counting tens of thousands of ibis over the country. 

“And on 21 December, almost 15,000 Sydney-siders are either ‘interested’ or ‘going’ to an ibis-themed Facebook event … called ‘International Glare at Ibises Day’.”

This is deeply rude: for some of us, every single day of our lives is International Glare at Ibises Day. 

In conclusion, they say we need to be nicer to the poor things (sorry about that last sentence), and mindful of why the filthy disgusting beasts are clogging up our cities (because we’re gross):

“Ibis have our attention, for good and bad, and it can be channelled for change. Their social media appeal needs to be curbed for good, not inane. Spread the plight of the ibis, dispose of your rubbish properly, don’t waste food (food created on farmland irrigated by the Murray-Darling), and respect ibis. Next year, let’s see ‘International Care for Ibises Day’.”

Look, it’s not bloody likely, but well done for trying. It’s actually a surprisingly fascinating read and I would highly recommend giving it a bash, which you can do right here.

Source: Australian Geographic.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / JJ Harrison.