Wetlands Ecology and Management

, Volume 27, Issue 5–6, pp 725–742 | Cite as

Ibis and spoonbill chick growth and energy requirements: implications for wetland and water management

  • Lauren O’Brien
  • Heather M. McGinnessEmail author
Original Paper


Colonial-nesting waterbirds such as ibis and spoonbills (Threskiornithidae) can account for a significant proportion of energy flow through wetlands, particularly during large breeding events. However when food availability is reduced, chicks may starve and adults may abandon nests. If the energy required to rear chicks could be calculated, data quantifying prey energy value and availability could be used to develop landscape scale management targets to ensure that food requirements are met to support chicks until they attain independence, thereby maximising recruitment. We calculated ibis and spoonbill chick biometrics and energy requirements through (a) an international literature review, extracting and synthesising the best available growth and energy data; (b) new measurements of ibis and spoonbill chick biometrics for selected species; and (c) analysis of the resulting databases to construct growth curves and predict energy requirements for selected species. Here we present the first models of Royal Spoonbill growth and of Royal Spoonbill and Australian White Ibis chick energy requirements. The total energy estimated to raise a single Royal Spoonbill chick from hatching to independence was 71,290 kJ and for an Australian White Ibis chick was 67,160 kJ. Using prey energy values from the literature, extrapolations indicate that for either species, a nesting event of 1000 nests producing three chicks per nest would require an estimated ten tonnes of freshwater crayfish (Cherax destructor) or eight tonnes of invasive juvenile carp (Cyprinus carpio) to support chicks from hatching to independence. Effective water and wetland management is critical to optimise both energy availability in foraging sites and breeding success.


Threskiornithidae Platalea regia Threskiornis molucca Food Energy Biometrics 



We are grateful to Freya Robinson, Melissa Piper, Micah Davies, Lucy Wenger and Alexandra Paton for their assistance in the field and with sourcing literature. This work was made possible through the support of a Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Land and Water Undergraduate Vacation Scholarship awarded to Lauren O’Brien and the Murray-Darling Basin Environmental Water Knowledge and Research Project’s Waterbird Theme led by Heather McGinness. The Murray-Darling Basin Environmental Water Knowledge and Research (MDB EWKR) Project is funded by the Australian Government Commonwealth Environmental Water Office. None of the funders had any influence on the content of the submitted or published manuscript.

Author contributions

HM conceived the idea, obtained funding, formulated the questions and methods, supervised the research and edited the paper; LO collected the data, analysed the data and wrote the paper.


This work was made possible through the support of a Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Land and Water Undergraduate Vacation Scholarship and the Murray-Darling Basin Environmental Water Knowledge and Research Project. The Murray-Darling Basin Environmental Water Knowledge and Research (MDB EWKR) Project is funded by the Australian Government Commonwealth Environmental Water Office. None of the funders had any influence on the content of the submitted or published manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no potential conflicts of interest.

Ethics approval

This research was conducted in compliance with the CSIRO Animal Ethics Committee Authority Number 2015-17 and the University of NSW Animal Care and Ethics Committee Authority Number 17/122B.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Crown 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)CanberraAustralia

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