In Australia, the white ibis is called the “garbage chicken”. It forages wherever it can, even in dumpsters. But it has a rare ability. It is the bird that can eat poisonous toads.
Cane toads were introduced to Australia in the 1930s. Their skin Releases venom when it feels threatened. It kills most animals that come into contact with them with a heart attack.
However, many videos of ibis “playing” with these toads were reported. Emily Vincent runs invasive species programs at the environmental charity Watergum. She says this behavior has been reported all along the east coast of Australia.
“An ibis was circling the toads, tossing them in the air. After this, they would always clean the toads in the wet grass. Or they would go down to a nearby water source and rinse the toads.” This is evidence of a “stress, wash and repeat” method that the birds have developed. They rid the toads of their toxins before swallowing them whole.
Hawks and crows quickly figured out how to eat them. They would lay the toads on their backs and pull out their intestines, without touching the glands. But the ibis method is unprecedented. “Ibis have an unfair reputation. This shows that they are smart birds,” say the researchers. “They force the cane toad to get rid of the toxin itself. The toad is doing all the work for them.”
Some species are slowly recognizing this pest as “a very bad choice for lunch.” Others are undergoing genetic changes that make them less susceptible to the poison. And then there are animals like the ibis. This technique would help control toad overpopulation.
“They have an incredible reproductive capacity. With every one less female cane toad, up to 70,000 new cane toads are prevented each year.”
Most of the heavy lifting is done by animals that Australia loves to hate. Like ibis, rodents or ants. “All those animals are doing a wonderful job. They are an invisible army reducing the number of cane toads every year.” And the bird that can eat poisonous toads is in this army to stay.