Straw-necked ibis migration

The CSIRO waterbird research team track the movements of waterbird species, including the:

  • straw-necked ibis
  • Australian white ibis
  • royal spoonbills.

The team, led by Dr Heather McGinness, use GPS satellite to track waterbird migration. Their research tells us more about the species and how we can better use water for the environment.

Tracking Elf's movements

Elf – adult female straw-necked ibis. Photo: Heather McGinness

Elf is a female straw-necked ibis. Since 2017, Elf has been wearing a GPS device that tracks her movements.

The device is a light-weight solar-powered satellite tracker. It was first fitted to her in Kow Swamp in Victoria in December 2017.

For almost 4 years, Elf migrated every season. During this time, she visited over 13,000 locations and travelled the length of the Murray–Darling Basin. She's been as far north as Emerald, Queensland and as south as Bridgewater, Victoria. This means she's covered almost 1,500 km.

Elf spends the cooler months in Queensland and moves south to Victoria during August and September.

The image below shows Elf's movements between December 2017 and September 2020.

Since the team first met Elf at Kow Swamp in Victoria nearly three years ago, she has recorded over 13,000 GPS locations, from as far north as Emerald, Queensland, to Bridgewater, Victoria- about 1500km apart (as the ibis flies)!

Leg Band 12160791 - "Elf" - Adult female straw-necked ibis 3/12/2017 - 30/09/2020 map

Satellite image showing the migration of Elf, an adult female straw-necked ibis, between 3/12/2017 and 30/09/2020.

Importance of tracking waterbirds

By tracking Elf's movements, we've learnt more about how waterbirds behave. This includes where they fly, stop, feed, breed and roost. It helps us understand the different habitats they need during their lifecycle.

"Tracking the movements of waterbirds like Elf is revealing an amazing level of detail about their lives and choices. We’re using this detail to help inform better management of wetlands and water.” — Dr Heather McGinness

This information helps us use and plan water for the environment. It ensures we deliver water to the right places at the right times.

So far, the research is telling us:

  • the location of key habitats used by waterbirds
  • where and when we should use water for the environment to support foraging habitat and food resources
  • how to support waterbird breeding and survival during and after flooding events.

Water for the environment is critical for supporting successful waterbird breeding. It helps restore key nesting, refuge, roosting and foraging sites. It’s particularly important for species like spoonbills and ibis that nest in large groups. When there isn't enough water for the group, nesting can fail.

Read more

For more information, visit Flow-MER, our on-ground monitoring, evaluation and research program.

You can also stay up to date by following Waterbirds Australia on social media:

Water managers can visit the CSIRO website for more information about waterbird breeding and movements.