The Audubon Society states that the Roseate Spoonbill is at once “beautiful and bizarre.”
The Roseate Spoonbill is a large wading bird with pink plumage and a distinctive spatulate bill. It stands about 33 inches tall and has a wing span of approximately 41 inches. Its breeding range is North America’s Gulf Coast and extends through Central America down to Argentina. They can also be found on islands like the Bahamas, the Caribbean and Cuba. While they are regularly observed in South Carolina, they have not been recorded nesting in the state as of 2011.
The Roseate Spoonbill is one of six Spoonbill species found in the world, but the Roseate is only found in the western hemisphere and the only one with pink plumage. This plumage color is believed to come from the crustaceans they feed on who in turn have fed on algae.
It is named for the spatula shaped beak which becomes flatter and broader towards the end. The beaks of the chicks are straight growing into the spoon shape as they mature. There are two small slits close to the top of the beak meaning that the Spoonbill can still breathe while it’s beak is submerged in the water.
Their heads are bare with a greenish tinge and a darker black band around the base of the skull. The eyes and legs are red with the feather of the neck, chest and upper back being white. Their feet are black.
The diet of the Spoonbill is varied consisting of small fish, amphibians, aquatic invertebrates and some plant material. To catch their food, their highly specialized bill is swept from side to side. This action creates little whirlpools of water that trap prey inside them. When prey is sensed, the bill snaps shut.
The Spoonbill typically begins breeding between their third and fourth year. Dancing and bill clapping along with ritualized exchanges of nest material occurs during courtship. The female builds the nest from material the male has brought to her. The average clutch size is 3 eggs that incubate 22-24 days. When hatched, the chick is mostly pink with sparse white down and an orange bill, legs and feet. It is fed regurgitated material by the parents. Exercising of the chick begins at around one month with fledging occurring at six weeks of age.
They are highly social birds who flock together and with other wading birds. They inhabit marshes, swamps, pools and rivers within their range feeding in both fresh and saltwater wetlands.
Beginning in the late 1800s, humans wanting the Spoonbill primary feathers for ladies hats, fans and other articles, reduced the Spoonbill population to an historic low of 30-40 breeding pairs. Once they gained full legal protection their numbers have rebounded. Obtaining recent population size is difficult, however, their numbers are in the thousands.
Other than human encroachment on their habitat, natural predators include alligators, pumas and jaguars. Hawks, raccoons and coyotes prey on the eggs and young chicks.