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The ‘Funny-shaped Beak’ Club

May 18, 2019

Ibises and spoonbills form a family of birds known as Threskiornithidae. As with most scientific nomenclature, the words are usually derived from Latin or Greek and you could be mistaken for thinking that Threskiornithidae might be translated as ‘birds with funny beaks’ or something similar. It fact the word derives from the Greek thrêskos meaning religious and órnis for bird, a reference to the sacred status of the ibis in early civilisations such as Egypt. Nothing to do with funny shaped bills at all. Physically the birds in this family have long necks and legs and 11 primary feathers (if you ever get close enough to count them)!

Ibises, pictured above have long, decurved beaks. They are distributed around the Australian coast line (apart from the Nullabor) and over the eastern half of Australia. Traditionally they inhabited wetlands (freshwater, brackish and saline), irrigated areas, floodplains and tidal margins. However a series of droughts has forced the populations into urban areas where the birds happily inhabit lawns, public gardens and rubbish tips.

Ibis feed by probing mud for crustaceans, molluscs and aquatic invertebrates. On land they feed on insects, frogs and reptiles.

The photograph shows two of the three Australian species of ibis, the Straw-necked Ibis (Threskiornis spinicollis) on the left and the Australian White Ibis (Threskiornis molucca) on the right. Missing is the Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus).

Two out of three ain’t bad.

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