Australia Today

The Drought is Forcing Hungry ‘Bin Chickens’ into Australian Cities

An extended dry spell has led to the white ibis becoming one of the most commonly sighted birds in Australia.
Gavin Butler
Melbourne, AU
White ibis / bin chickens
Image via Needpix 

The white ibis is a divisive creature. Colloquially known as “bin chickens” due to their insatiable appetite for trash, these leather-headed, sabre-beaked birds draw the ire of some, the sympathy of others, and the ironic love of many who seem to think of these hideous garbage-eaters as a sort of mascot for the Australian condition.

Whatever your position, there’s a good chance you’ve started noticing more of these winged bottom feeders hanging around your neighbourhood of late. And that’s because, according to BirdLife Australia's national Aussie Backyard Bird Count, the ibis has become one of the top 10 most commonly seen birds in the country for the very first time.


The bin chicken moved from 13th place in the 2018 list to 10th this year following a significant increase in reports of the bird in urban areas, Fairfax reported. According to BirdLife Australia spokesman Sean Dooley, the reason for this might be linked back to the ongoing Australian drought.

Dooley explained that white ibises typically used to feed on more natural resources such as yabbies, worms, grasshoppers, and crickets. Their “natural stronghold”, as he put it, was once the Murray-Darling Basin in New South Wales. But years of historic drought and an unprecedented dry period have forced them to search further afield for things to eat. And that’s driving them into the cities—and, in turn, the eponymous bins.

They’ve since thrived in the urban centres of Sydney, Brisbane, and the Gold Coast, becoming a national ornithological icon in the process. While Dooley noted that the bird’s ability to adapt was impressive, he also acknowledged that, on an a larger environmental scale, their abundance is a bad omen.

"You have to admire their resilience and resourcefulness. But it is disturbing at another level, because birds are basically a great indicator of what's going on in the environment,” he told Fairfax. “The fact we're not seeing them out in the Murray-Darling and other inland areas, where they traditionally would be, shows the disturbance we're having right across the country."

In the event that the drought did break and natural habitat conditions improved, however, Dooley suggested that the ibis flocks could end up winging it back to their natural habitat. Which would mean significantly less bin chickens stalking our parks, lurking around our lunch tables, and fossicking around in our garbage.

The top three birds most commonly seen birds in Australia, according to Birdlife’s tally, are the rainbow lorikeet, the noisy miner, and the Australian magpie.

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