Although rare in many parts of their territory, spoonbills are instantly recognizable due to their spatulate bill. Herons and egrets are more common wading birds, but spoonbills have the namesake bill and bright white or pink plumage to set them apart. In flight, the normally graceful birds become ponderous and cartoonish, often being compared to a Dr. Seuss bird.
Scientific & Common Names
Kingdom - Animalia
Phylum - Chordata
Class - Aves
Order - Pelecaniformes
Family - Threskiornithidae
Subfamily - Plataleinae
Genus – Platalea
Species – Eurasian spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia); Black-faced spoonbill (Platalea minor); African spoonbill (Platalea alba); Royal spoonbill (Platalea regia); Yellow-billed spoonbill (Platalea flavipes); Roseate spoonbill (Platalea ajaja)
Common Names – Spoonbill
Spoonbills can be found all over the world, especially Africa, Asia, and Australia. The Roseate spoonbill is the only one found in the Western hemisphere. As their name suggests, their long bills end with a spoon-like protuberance which they use to sweep through shallow waters while feeding. Depending on the species, they can be anywhere from 2-3 feet tall and have all white or some pink-tinged feathers. The Roseate, however, is mostly pink.
During the breeding season, different species will change their plumage temporarily. Some species, like the Eurasian, will develop yellow feather on their breasts, while the Royal will develop long crests they use in displays. They are monogamous, at least for one season, and both parents raise the young. The males provide nesting materials which the females then make into a nest. They will nest in large groups, often with their close relative the ibises. Up to three eggs are laid, which will hatch individually instead of all at once and both parents feed them until they are able to leave the nest.
Spoonbills are more graceful on the ground than in the air, where they lower their head slightly and continuously flap their wings to stay aloft. They feed for much of the day, wading in fresh or brackish water and sweeping their bills through the water and mud to catch small fish or crustaceans. They will often immerse their entire head in the water as they hunt.
Spoonbills are closely related to ibises, whose fossil record dates back 60 million years. It is not known exactly when spoonbills diverged from the ibises since the fossil record is still spotty.
Some animals are listed as threatened or protected in certain areas or states rather than having national or international status. The Roseate spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) is listed as threatened in Florida and is protected by the US Migratory Bird Treaty Act. By the end of the 1930’s, there were only estimated to be 40 Roseates in Florida, due mostly to them being hunted for their feathers, which were used as fashion accessories, but with laws protecting them, they have returned in much larger numbers.. They are also protected in many other locations and their numbers are showing improvement.
- International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN)
- The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)
- Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
- Storks, Ibises, and Spoonbills of the World by James A. Hancock, James A. Kushlan, M. Philip Kahl
- Water's Edge: Wading Birds of North America by John Netherton
- Wading Birds by John P.S. Mackenzie