THE SACRED IBIS (Threskiornis aethiopicus) is so called because in the ancient world it was venerated for its snake-killing properties. It’s certainly a regal bird, and a favourite with visitors to its native habitats in the African wetlands. Over here, though, the official position is that it’s a pest. Officialdom, indeed, has just stamped down on the species, with fines totalling more than £8,000 levied on a park in the Lake District which allowed its ibises to escape. (See News in Brief, page 2.)
The details of this case are sparse, but I understand that it was police observers who dropped the dime on the park and its owner. Serious stuff. And it may be the shape of things to come. We all know it’s generally against the law deliberately to release captivebred birds into the wild, but hardly anyone is ever charged.
Yet Europe’s lawmakers are rumbling into action to prevent the spread of undesirable non-native species. (Watch this space, parrot fans.) The EC-funded Delivering Alien Invasive Species Inventories for Europe project (DAISIE for short; I’m not making this up) offers a “100 Worst” list of non-native species that they reckon could, if uncontrolled, muck up our wildlife – and one of them is the sacred ibis.
Though not ferally established over here, the ibises have colonised coastal France and spread rapidly. They have caused alarm by preying on eggs and young in colonies of herons and terns: 10 years ago, two of them ate all the eggs from 30 pairs of Sandwich terns inside four hours. They’re seen as a voracious new predator and nobody has a clue how numerous they could become if nothing were done.
Hence the “control” measures already taken in France, Spain and elsewhere. Zoos and bird parks should take note: these ibises are wonderful in captivity, but bad news on the loose.
In the December 17, 2014 issue of Cage & Aviary Birds, a favourite book of Willy Newlands reveals the long lost riches of the Keston Foreign Bird Farm in Sussex
Fred Wright looks back at the career of Angela Moss, one of the true greats of the budgerigar fancy
Dave Brown’s Beginning in Birdkeeping series considers accommodation for our native species
Plus lots more, including Vet Casebook, wildfowl, zebbies and Glosters