Tags: Native Wildlife. Birds. Storks. Australian. Queensland. Jabiru
It was a Thursday morning when I received a call from a friend to say that a Jabiru was feeding at Buckley’s Hole. Such a visitor was not a very common occurrence. Unfortunately, I had prior commitments on both Thursday and Friday and was unable to investigate. Saturday was a free morning so I took myself down to Buckley’s with not much hope of the Jabiru returning.
Featured Image(above): Bath time for this female
Sure enough, when I arrived there was no Jabiru to be seen. The water in the lagoon was low and there were about 19 different bird species that I could see feeding some distance from the hide. I always enjoy the peace and serenity of Buckley’s Hole so remained for some time. After about half an hour a Jabiru flew in and landed at the far end of the lagoon and began feeding. It was a good distance from the hide and a little too far away to get a good photograph but I enjoyed watching it for about an hour when it wandered off into the bush and out of sight.
I have seen Jabirus at Buckley’s Hole before but it is always a thrill when one appears. Jabirus are fairly uncommon breeding residents on Bribie Island and are Australia’s largest wading bird. The name Jabiru is a Brazilian name for a stork which inhabits Central and South America and has little resemblance to our one and only Australian stork. The rather boring name Black-necked Stork replaced Jabiru several years ago, but most people still refer to it as “Jabiru”. They are territorial and include huge areas up to 10,000 hectares in their range. In Australia, they are found in northern tropical and sub-tropical parts where there is water, open areas, and trees.
Female, note beautiful colours on head and neck
They are also found in some SE Asian countries and PNG. Black-necked Storks do not have black necks. They look black from a distance but are actually blueish green in colour. With a huge black bill and long neck, black and white plumage, long red legs the Jabirus are large, stately birds. Males and females have similar plumage but can be distinguished by their eyes. Males have brown eyes whereas females have distinctive yellow eyes. Juveniles are like adults with brown plumage instead of black and off-white instead of white feathers. They stand 129- 150 cm tall with a 230 cm wingspan and weigh approximately 4 kg. Jabirus have a lifespan of about 30 years.
In flight, they are stretched out with head and neck extended and their long legs trailing straight out behind. Movement of their wings is slow, and they are able to reach high altitudes to soar and make use of the thermals. They do not have voice boxes so are usually silent but can communicate by clapping their bills particularly at nesting time. Other birds normally have two voice boxes which enable some birds to make two calls at the one time. When feeding, Jabirus move slowly and purposefully while stalking their prey such as fish, eels, frogs, baby turtles and turtle eggs, small crabs, snakes, and insects. Large prey such as snakes etc is beaten and prodded until they become manageable enough to be eaten. They hunt alone in water from 5-30 cm deep.
Breeding can take place by the mostly monogamous parents at almost any time but from March to May seems to be the most favoured time. Their untidy nests high up in a tree and usually near water are huge and made of sticks being 1.2 m – 1.6 m across and up to 1 m deep. 2-4 white eggs are laid and incubated by both parents for about 30 days. Both parents also help tend to the young. Adult birds fly out for food which they swallow and regurgitate to feed the chicks. Sometimes water is carried to the chicks in the adults’ bills. Young birds remain in the nest for about 100-115 days and are fed by both parents. When they are ready to fly they are taught by their parents to leave the nest.
Juvenile feeding at Buckley’s Hole
I once watched a patient parent trying to coax a recalcitrant youngster to leave the nest. I watched for hours but the youngster kept refusing to take the final step. I had to leave in the end but believe the youngster flew off the next day. From a clutch of chicks usually only one will survive so their population expansion is understandably slow. John Gould while studying the Jabiru noted that the meat had a fishy taste and not very palatable. To some of the Aboriginal tribes, the meat was taboo. They believed that by eating the meat an unborn baby could cause the death of the mother. Early Aborigines have several stories relating to the Jabiru.
The bill is described as a spear that went through the head of the bird. As we know the Jabiru has no voice box and an early Aboriginal story is that Jabirus once had a beautiful singing voice. The Kookaburra was envious as he could not sing at all. One night the Kookaburra waited for the Jabiru to fall asleep then crept up on the unsuspecting bird and cut out its voice box. After that, the Jabiru couldn’t sing at all. When it heard the loud cackling laughter of the Kookaburra it then knew that the Kookaburra had stolen its voice. Jabirus were also part of Indian folklore.
In-flight – note outstretched neck and legs
Juvenile feeding at Buckley’s Hole
In one area the young men were expected to capture a Jabiru alive before they could marry. Jabirus, when threatened, can become quite ferocious and after a youth was killed by an angry bird in the 1920’s the practice was discontinued. The most significant threats facing Jabirus are the loss of habitat through development, pollution of waterways, disappearing wetlands, and powerlines. With their huge wingspan powerlines can be a problem during flight. Conservation status in Qld, NT, WA is secure but in NSW the species is endangered. They are not found in the other states of Australia.