Saturday, September 5, 2009

White Ibis - Florida's Lawn Chicken

Anyone who has spent any time driving around Sarasota or Manatee counties has probably seen small groups of white birds with black wing tips hanging out in people's yards, on golf courses, and in water-filled roadside ditches.

These birds are White Ibis, members of a family of birds that look like herons and act like herons, but have strongly decurved bills that mean for certain they are not herons.

I saw my first White Ibis exactly 31 years ago today, September 4, 1978, at the Orton Plantation near Wilmington, North Carolina. My ex wife and I had flown out to Norfolk to go on our first pelagic birding trip out of Hatteras. A hurricane blew out the birding trip but Bob Ake, ever determined to follow through on a commitment, drove us from the Outer Banks to Moorehead City where we went on a fishing boat filled with drunk fishermen and looked for seabirds there. One of my non-pelagic species on my "target list" for the trip was White Ibis and Bob knew that a roost near Orton Plantation would produce for us. And it did.

Like several of the passerine species, I have also noticed an increase in the number of White Ibis near here. This has been especially true in the last couple of weeks so I'm wondering if some White Ibis are also beginning to move south to more desirable temperatures for the winter?

Some people refer to White Ibis as "lawn chicken" because of their affinity for freshly-mowed lawns that they like to scour for insects and other organisms stirred up by the whirling blades of a lawn mower. For whatever reason, and by whatever name they are called, White Ibis is one of the more enjoyable birds to be able to observe and learn about along Florida's sun-baked west coast.

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