Photo Credit: Dave Cagnolatti & Weeks Bay Reserve Foundation
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Platalea ajaja
OTHER NAMES: flame bird, pink, pinky, pink curlew, espátula rosada
DESCRIPTION: Roseate spoonbills (Platalea ajaja, sometimes separated in the monotypic genus Ajaja) are in the same family as ibises (Family Threskiornithidae). They are the only species of spoonbills found in North and South America. Roseate spoonbills are easily identified by their bright pink plumage and spoon-like bill. Juvenile birds are almost entirely white, with a completely feathered head. The head becomes less feathered as birds mature, ultimately becoming entirely unfeathered and pale-green at maturity. The majority of adult plumage is bright pink, with dark red wing coverts and tail coverts, a patch of stiff, recurved dark red feathers on the upper breast, a yellow patch on each side near the bend of the wing, and a rich tawny to orange tail. The feathers of the neck, upper back, and upper breast of adults are white. Their long legs and eyes are red. Males and females are colored alike. The non-breeding and breeding plumages are similar. The bill is six to seven inches long. It is narrow at the base, broadens and flattens distally at the end giving it its distinctive spatula-like shape. Adult birds stand about 31-32 inches tall. Total body length is 28-34 inches, wing span is 47-51 inches, and body weight ranges from 2 ½ to 4 pounds. The vocalizations of adults are limited to a variety of low grunts and clucks.
DISTRIBUTION: The roseate spoonbill’s breeding range in the U.S runs along the coasts of Texas, Louisiana, and south Florida. Some interior nesting has been noted in south Florida and Louisiana. No records of breeding roseate spoonbills have been noted in Alabama or Mississippi. Individuals disperse annually from their breeding grounds along the coast to portions of Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. Occasional sightings outside of the breeding season have been documented along the Gulf Coast of Alabama and Mississippi.
HABITAT: Roseate spoonbills are wading birds and can be found in a variety of marine, brackish, and freshwater habitats. Spoonbills may be found in bays, inlets, estuaries, mangroves, marshes, and beaches along the coast. Inland habitats include marshes, forested swamps, rivers, lakes, and wet prairies. Nesting habitat occurs primarily on islands or in standing trees over water.
FEEDING HABITS: Spoonbills feed almost entirely on small aquatic animals, including various fishes, crustaceans, and insects. Typical feeding habitat includes a variety of shallow water aquatic areas along the coast and further inland. Feeding areas for spoonbills include coastal bays, estuaries, lagoons, sea grass meadows, marsh, wet prairies, swamps, canals, tidal mudflats, tidal pools, sloughs, lakes, ponds, river drainages, mosquito control impoundments, catfish and crayfish ponds at farms, cattle ponds, and roadside ditches and puddles.
Roseate spoonbills typically feed by slowly walking along and sweeping their bills, looking and feeling for various prey items. When the bill contacts prey, it quickly clamps shut. Spoonbills swallow their food by raising their bills slightly and rapidly jerking their heads backward to throw the food back toward the throat. Spoonbills also will chase active prey. They will shake large or hard-shelled prey vigorously or beat it against hard surfaces to make those items easier to swallow.
LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY: Roseate spoonbills are colonial nesters. Nests usually are built in the dense cover of mangrove trees on islands or over standing water. Clutch size varies from one to seven eggs, with three to four being most common. Eggs typically are a dirty white to cream color, with various splotches and spots of brown. Eggs are laid from November to June depending on location. Eggs are incubated by both adults for a period of 22-24 days. The young birds are fledged at roughly six weeks of age. Most aspects of roseate spoonbill life history are poorly studied or documented. The U.S. breeding population of roseate spoonbills (approximately 5,500 breeding pairs) has remained relatively stable in recent years. Roseate spoonbills are listed as a Species of Special Concern in Florida and Louisiana.
Dumas, Jeannette V. 2000. Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/490
Imhof, T. A. 1976. Alabama birds, second edition. The University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, Alabama. 445 pp.
National Geographic Society. 1999. Field guide to the birds of North America, third edition. National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C. 480 pp.
Peterson, R.T. 1980. A field guide to the birds of eastern and central North America, fourth edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. 384 pp.
AUTHOR: Chris Cook, Wildlife Biologist, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries