One of the most beautiful of all the marsh birds native to Florida, the Roseate Spoonbill can be found wading through lakes, estuaries, swamps and intracoastal waterways. Considered a species of special concern in Florida, this regal and unusual bird will normally avoid areas heavily populated by humans.
While not a frequent patient at the SFWC, the admission of a spoonbill is a rare opportunity for our staff to better understand the health and environmental challenges facing these magnificent birds.
With bright pink plumage and spatulate bill, spoonbills can be found throughout the southern U.S., the Caribbean and South America. Spoonbills wade through shallow water, with their heads down and spoonbill slightly open and halfway submerged. They utilize a sweeping motion back and forth, and when a fish or insect comes between the mandibles, their powerful spoonbill snaps shut.
During courtship, the bill is used in a variety of ways, including nest material exchanges, bill clapping and exaggerated dancing.
At the turn of the century, the spoonbill’s vibrant primary feathers attracted many professional plume hunters that were looking to source materials for the construction of ladies’ fans and hats. The tragic result of this practice almost drove the species to extinction. With the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, Roseate Spoonbills (in addition to other native birds) were provided protection under federal law, which has enabled their population to rebound.
Spoonbills are related to herons, storks and egrets and are often mistaken for flamingos, especially by tourists visiting Florida. They can grow up to 38 inches in height and weigh up to 4 lbs. They have a wingspan that ranges from 47-52 inches, and spoonbills don’t reach breeding maturity until three years of age.
If you happen to catch a glimpse of a Roseate Spoonbill, you’ve been given a rare opportunity to witness one of nature’s most elegant and graceful birds.
Roseate Spoonbill photos courtesy of Elizabeth Morffiz.