Beautiful Shades of Pink in Birds
by: Kacie Couch
When you think of a pink bird, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? For most people, it would be a flamingo. The flamingo is a very beautiful (and very pink) bird, but it is not a local species to say the least. Lucky for us, we have our own species of pink bird wading in our North Florida waters!
The roseate spoonbill looks exactly as its name suggests; Rosy colored with a bill in the shape of a spoon. And while it may look as though these birds have very bad sunburn, there is actually a completely scientific reason behind their colorful plumage. Roseate spoonbills gain their rosy pink coloring over time in the same way that flamingos do; through eating shrimp. Shrimp contain high levels of carotene which produces a chemical called canthaxanthin (try saying that five times fast) and it is this chemical that creates the beautiful shades of pink that we see in both flamingos and roseate spoonbills. On Amelia River Cruises and Charters we like to call our local spoonbills the “tourist birds” because the longer they stay out in the Florida sun eating shrimp, the pinker they get, just like our tourists!
Unfortunately for the spoonbills, their beautiful plumage won them unwanted popularity in the late 1800s to the early 1900s when bird feather garments and accessories were all the rage. Spoonbills were hunted to the point of endangerment in order to provide well-to-do ladies with rosy pink hats and fans created by stuffing a spoonbill’s wing and fanning out the feathers. As timelessly fashionable as that sounds, the fad ended in 1918 thanks to The Migratory Bird Treaty Act which protected the Roseate Spoonbill and numerous other migratory bird species from being over-hunted to extinction. Today, the spoonbills are thriving and are no longer considered threatened in our area.
While their incredible coloring might be their most noticeable attribute from a distance, the roseate spoonbill also has an extraordinary beak. As I mentioned earlier, the bill of a spoonbill is shaped like a long, flat spoon! The roseate spoonbill feeds in coastal marshes which are rich with small fish, shellfish and other spoonbill delicacies, and the shape of their bill really comes in handy when trying to catch dinner. When hunting, the spoonbill will wade through the shallow water near tidal creeks with its head down, and its bill slightly open, quickly moving its head from side to side along the bottom of the water. The roseate spoonbill can sense movement using tiny hair-like sensors on it bill, and when it detects something its beak will automatically clamp shut with one of the fastest reaction times in the animal kingdom! This is a very distinct form of fishing that is truly fun to watch!
If you want to see these beautiful birds in the wild, there’s no better way to do so then from the water! Come join us for one of Amelia River Cruises and Charters Eco Tours which covers some of the Roseate Spoonbill’s favorite stomping grounds in our area and is sure to entertain and enlighten kids and adults of all ages on the amazing ecology (including the pink birds) in our area. Be sure to wear sunblock so you don’t become as pink as our “tourist birds”!
See you on the boat, everyone!
How about joining our limited edition Shrimping Eco Tour to learn about our wonderful and amazing eco system? We are quite certain that you might also see a bunch of our “tourist birds”. They often hang out where there are shrimp.