December 16, 2018

Ibis listing a bitter quill

Tasmania left off the map again, this time when it comes to birds.

That was my first thought when I read that the white ibis – which does not occur here – was leading the poll to name Australia’s favourite bird for 2017. Thankfully, bird enthusiasts taking part in the survey came to their senses and named the magpie as number one.

The white ibis winning the Guardian Australia/Birdlife Australia bird of the year contest would have been a bitter pill – or should I say  bitter quill – to swallow.

The ibis is the poster bird of the Anthropocene, the scruffy “bin chicken”, and no amount of defending it in the avian press, people extolling its capacity to adapt to mankind’s world, will win Tasmanians over, at least this Tasmanian.

As it happened, in spite of intense lobbying for the ibis, and suspected vote rigging for another species, the powerful owl, the Australian magpie familiar to Tasmanians swooped to victory with a vote of 19,926. But still the ibis came second just 843 votes behind.

The magpie will do us fine, compared with some others on offer, especially the troublesome kookaburra and rainbow lorikeet (listed no 3 and 6 respectively in the top 10), imports to Tasmania from the mainland who cause as much mayhem down here as a team of visiting footy players on season-ending tours.

That ibis, with its airs and snooty look of arrogance from pictures we seen of it, appears out on limb. And anyway we have our own species finding a home in city and suburb, the silver and kelp gulls.

Both these gulls, sharing the fast food that’s also on the human diet, have been recorded also sharing the same ailments which blight obese humans, including high levels of cholesterol.

The poll was interesting in that it once again underlined our connection with the birds we see around us, the ones we see daily, the ones physically seen to share our world.

Of the top 10, most of the others in a list of 50 voted upon are common birds. Many of them are not seen in Tasmania because we simply have fewer species than the vast Australian mainland.

Along with the white ibis in the top 10, mainland species like the willy wagtail (no 7) and the cassowary (9) got the most votes.

The ibis, though, was a surprise, and certainly ruffled my feathers.  Most mainlanders only know it from raiding rubbish bins, or stealing sandwiches in city parks, but I remember spending many a happy hour at an ibis roost in far north Queensland, the mangroves on the Ross River in Townsville being shared with fruit bats. As the bats left in the evening, the ibis were returning.

There was one notable Tasmanian bird on the list, however, which would have been seen by very few of the voters, even if it does migrate to the mainland each year.  That was the orange-bellied parrot, down to just 16 wild birds at its last stronghold at Melaleuca in Tasmania’s far south-west. It came in at number 21 with 2324 votes.


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