The colonially nesting Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) is a medium-sized, pink-bodied, ibis-like bird with a flat spatula-shaped bill. These birds are found in the southeastern United States and West Indies through Mexico and Central America to South America, where they are distributed south to northern Argentina east of the Andes and western Ecuador and northwestern Peru west of the Andes. They are uncommon to locally common throughout their extensive range. Throughout much of their range, the species is apparently declining as a result of habitat alteration, hunting, and pollution. In the United States, Roseate Spoonbills were common along the Gulf Coast in the early 19th Century, but were almost exterminated in the 1930s by intense persecution and destruction of wading bird colonies for the plume trade starting in the 1880s. They were legally protected in the 1940s, after which populations recovered somewhat, but declines apparently followed later in the 20th century as a consequence of mosquito control programs and alteration of breeding and feeding habitats.
These highly gregarious waders often feed by sweeping the bill side to side, sifting through mud as they walk through shallow water. Their diet includes small fishes and aquatic invertebrates, as well as some plant material. They are found in coastal marshes, lagoons, mudflats, and mangrove keys, foraging in both salt and fresh water. Flocks typically include fewer than half a dozen individuals, but they are often associated with other wading birds as well. In courtship, male and female spoonbills first interact aggressively, then perch close together, presenting sticks to each other and crossing and clasping bills. They typically nest in mangroves or other trees and shrubs 5 to 15 feet above ground or water, but sometimes nest on the ground. The nest, a bulky platform of sticks with a deep twig- and leaf-lined center, is built mainly by the female with material brought by the male. Clutch size is 2 to 3 eggs (range 1 to 5). The white eggs are spotted with brown. Eggs are incubated (by both sexes) for 22 to 24 days. Both parents feed the young. Young may leave the nest after 5 to 6 weeks and are capable of strong flight at around 7 to 8 weeks. Roseate Spoonbills are mostly silent, but make a soft frog-like croak when disturbed.
(Matheu and del Hoyo 1992; Kaufman 1996; AOU 1998; Dunne 2006)
- Matheu, E. and J. del Hoyo. 1992. Family Threskiornithidae (Ibises and Spoonbills) P. 506 in: del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott, and J. Sargatal, eds. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol. 1. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
- Kaufman, K. 1996. Lives of North American Birds. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.
- American Ornithologists’ Union. 1998. Check-list of North American Birds, 7th edition. American Ornithologists’ Union, Washington, D.C.
- Dunne, P. 2006. Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.
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