Plumed whistling duck.
Plumed whistling duck.

Keep an ear out for little duck with plumes and loud whistle

A READER recently saw a white ibis take a cane toad and wondered if that was unusual.

While cane toads are poisonous to many of our native species, quite a number of Australian birds are not affected by the poison, with the white ibis being one of them.

It is thought that because our birds have a close evolutionary relationship to birds in Asia, where toads (not cane toads but species with similar poisons) are common, they have evolved an immunity to toad poisons.

Other bird species, such as magpies, which do not have such immunity have developed strategies where they turn the toad over and eat the belly and avoid the poison sacs on the back.

While birds are finding ways to live in a world populated by cane toads, other native species, especially reptiles and snakes, are being wiped out.

The plumed whistling duck is one of our more colourful waterbirds that can often be found in large numbers around wetlands.

The head and long neck are pale brown with a mottled pink and grey bill and the legs and feet are pink.

The breast is a pale chestnut colour that has fine black bars across it. The most striking feature is the near-vertical cream plumes along its sides.

During the day they congregate around wetlands, preening and sleeping, and at night they fly out to grasslands, where they feed.

They are unusual for ducks because they prefer to feed on grass but will also take aquatic food from the surface of the water.

A pair will bond for life and share the duties of nest building, incubation and feeding the young chicks.

They breed during the wet season and their nest is a simple scrape in the ground lined with grass and usually under a shrub.

The female will lay up to 12 eggs and after they hatch and fledge you will often see a pair of adults swimming on a lagoon or dam followed by a large group of chicks.

Some of these will be taken by predators, such as foxes, cats, owls and hawks, but most will survive and grow into adults.

The name whistling duck is derived from their distinctive whistle-like call, which can be deafening when they congregate in large numbers.

The Botanical Gardens is a good place to see them, with 800 reported roosting around the lake in May. They can also be seen at many other freshwater wetlands in the area.

Allan Briggs in the secretary of BirdLife Capricornia, email him at abriggs@irock.com.au.

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