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Three wetland birds you should know about

Published 16 Mar 2023

After two years of drought, imagine a wetland bird flying across the vast and remote landscapes of western NSW, looking for a place to rest and replenish its reserves. If the conditions allow, it may breed, but it’s been far too long since rain, food, or rest. For now, it’s about survival.

Wetland birds are fascinating, often travelling vast distances to find the best place to set up shop. Their presence, or their lack of, is highly variable. Here are three you should know about.

1. Straw-necked Ibis

The Straw-necked Ibis is always on the lookout for rain-soaked wetlands, swamps and lagoons. Migratory birds are cued into the boom and bust of their environment. They know when to stay, when to go and when to breed. Our reserve managers and ecologists have reason to celebrate when a breeding event takes place on a semi-arid reserve, because it’s a sign of medium to long term ecosystem vitality.

Speaking on season 1 of our Big Sky Country Podcast about a rare rain event in his time as Reserve Manager on Naree, Greg Carroll said, “Once that water hit, then all these other birds start appearing. So you get straw-necked ibis, we had brolgas turn up, things start nesting.”

Straw-necked Ibis largely eat invertebrates, but their diet will vary based on their environment.

Catch them in the right light and you’ll see they also herald a beautiful iridescence on their upper body.

2. Royal Spoonbill

The Royal Spoonbill is another traveller, following the water and subsequently the life wherever it goes. Feeding on fish and crustaceans, the spoonbill relies on a rich and balanced ecosystem. Destruction of habitat and pollutants all cause problems for the Royal Spoonbill, but it has managed to utilise artificial waterways such as reservoirs and dams to make up for some of the lost habitat elsewhere.

During the breeding season, they expose a distinctive crest on the back of their necks. Their spoon-like bill is unique to the genus and they hold it open and swish it through the water until sensitive touch receptors feel prey, at which point the bill snaps shut to capture the meal.

3. Brolga

The Brolga is one of country’s most iconic birds, and for good reason. The name Brolga is taken from the Aboriginal language Gamilaraay, in which they are called burralga.

A number of traditional Aboriginal legends and dances are associated with Brolgas and use movements that mimic their graceful mating performances.

They’re known for reaching their breaks to the sky and making all-encompassing, trumpet-like calls. They are a species of crane and stand from 1 to 1.3 metres tall, with an even wider wingspan.

Unlike the Straw-necked Ibis and Royal Spoonbill, the Brolga is mostly sedentary, often keeping the same nest site for up to 20 years.

Straw-necked Ibis glides over Pilungah Reserve (Qld). Photo Ian Mayo. Straw-necked Ibis glides over Pilungah Reserve (Qld). Photo Ian Mayo.

Brolga. Photo Alec Brennan. Brolga. Photo Alec Brennan.
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