Monday, October 12, 2015

Awkward ibis navigates utility wire

Many birds like to perch on utility wires. I have seen belted kingfishers, mockingbirds, doves and cardinals sitting on the cable that stretches above the brackish pond by our New Smyrna Beach house.

But recently, I saw something different: American white ibises, Eudocimus albus, were on the wire.

Only two of the five birds had stable perches on the utilities pole. Both of those ibises — one adult that was completely white except for black wingtips, and one younger bird, which was a mottled combination of brownish-gray feathers — were busily preening while the remaining flock struggled to find purchase on the utility cable.

Two ibises stands easily on top of utily poles while an immature bird tries to steady himself on the wire

Although the American white ibis often perches and roosts in trees, its two-foot tall body with a three-foot wide wingspan seems too big to balance on such a thin wire. I had come outside that morning to brush my hair, but the incongruity of what I saw on the wire was so striking, I put my hairbrush aside and picked the camera up instead.

The American white ibis is a common bird in Central Florida found in coastal areas to inland regions, where it often probes the ground with its long downward curved orangish beak in search of small prey. It isn’t fussy about where it hunts, frequenting the shallow water of estuaries to overwatered lawns in subdivisions in search of crayfish, crabs, worms, insects, frogs, snakes, fish and snails.

Using their long curved beaks, ibises search for food in a residential yard

Because ibises are social birds, it’s rare to see just one. They travel, feed and roost in flocks that can number in the thousands. The ibises I saw were in a small group of about five birds with a few others flying in every so often.

As I watched, one young ibis stood out. He was trying his darnedest to make his way across the cable to the utility pole where the other two birds already were situated. Awkward as a gawky teen, he swayed unsteadily, tottering back and forth and using his wings for balance as he took one tentative step after another.

Knock-kneed and awkward, a juvenile ibis tries to keep its balance on a utility line

The young ibis was concentrating on his task, and I was concentrating on him. I found his avian tightrope act riveting. While the poor bird’s struggle to maintain balance resulted in an entertaining display of acrobatic antics for me to watch, I doubt if the ibis found it enjoyable.

Watch the ibis navigate the wire

After repeated attempts to get his footing under control, the brownish-gray-feathered bird finally managed to reach the pole where the two other members of his flock contentedly perched. But was he rewarded for his hard work and successful maneuvering with a stable spot to stand?

He was not.

The two ibises already there completely ignored him. They showed no intention to move over or make room for the newcomer to stand. As if that wasn’t disappointing enough, another juvenile ibis standing on the wire close to the pole tried to chase him off by poking him with his beak. Sensing the futility of his efforts, the immature ibis eventually gave up, flying off to land on a dead tree nearby.

Trees make much more stable perches for ibises than telephone wires

My unexpected wildlife encounter was more than just entertainment or a brief peek into American white ibis behaviors. It also made me think. No matter who or what you are — young bird or old person — learning the ways of the world isn’t easy. No matter how hard you try, navigation is often wobbly, unstable and tricky. Even if you manage not to slip or fall, there’s no guarantee you’ll reach your intended target. And sometimes, even when you’re almost there, insurmountable obstacles can force you to give up.

The important thing, however, is that a safe place to settle is often nearby. Getting there may mean a change of plans — sometimes you have to separate from the flock to become the lone bird on a snag — but at least you know you have tried your hardest, done your best and been rewarded with a peaceful place to rest.



  1. Thanks for the great video (music was so fitting!) ,and the article was informative, fun, and thought provoking!

    1. hi bobbi! thanks so much for commenting. it means a lot to me to know you are reading and (hopefully) enjoying my posts. <3

  2. I follow you always and am truly enlightened, amazed and amused by your blog. I am a native Floridian since 1953 (64 yrs. old) and need to comment more to you. I live in Fruitland Park and know so many of the places you visit. Thank you for your information and wonderful videos.

    1. What a kind comment, Rennie! Thank you so much for taking the time to read my posts and watch the videos. I really enjoyed making this most recent video. The ibises were just so gawky and awkward on the wire. I hope you will continue to comment in the future.