Why Is The Roseate Spoonbill Pink
by: Davis Yancy Clegg
Roseate Spoonbills are part of the avian Order Ciconiiformes along with herons, bitterns, storks, ibises, and flamingoes. As members of the family Threskiornithidae, they share family traits with the ibises. Roseate are one of six genera of spoonbills found worldwide and the only one native to the Western Hemisphere. In the United States they are typically found along the coastal areas of the Southeast (primarily along the coasts of Florida, Louisiana, and Texas). They can be found in mangrove swamps, tidal ponds, and saltwater lagoons or other sources of brackish water.
This bird is a large wading bird, which is 30–36 inches tall with a wingspread approaching 3-4 feet. It is normally easily recognizable by its characteristic pink / red color and its unusual spoon-shaped beak. More specifically the spoonbill typically has a white neck with pink or rose feathers covering much of its body. The feathers on its wings are typically bright red to magenta depending on the age of the bird and whether breeding season is near. Its legs are pink-red and irises of the eyes of adult birds are bright red. Its most distinctive feature is its green-gray spoon-shaped beak. On this beak the nostrils located near the head allow the bird to breathe even with much of its beak underwater. In the adult, the head is naked. Close examination of the head of the bird exposes a less glamorous side of this beautiful bird. Its naked, green balding head is sometimes more reminiscent of a tortoise than a bird. The flat, spatulate beak requires that water be present for feeding. Unlike their cousins, the ibises, spoonbills cannot feed on land or in mud flats where their long beaks can probe the mud or soil. Spoonbills are primarily tactile feeders. They open their beaks slightly and begin to swing their heads back-and-forth in the water. This action creates small whirlpools of water that stirs the mud beneath the surface. Vibrations produced by escaping prey are detected by sensitive touch receptors located inside the horny bill and the beak snaps shut. Because the bird depends more on touch than sight, the spoonbill can feed in very cloudy water. Common prey includes small fish, crustaceans (shrimp and crayfish), insects, and other aquatic animals. The intense red color of the spoonbill is derived from red algae ingested along with the crustaceans. As a result the red color is fleeting in the absence of those crustaceans.
Because of their beautiful plumage, spoonbills likely many wading birds were hunter nearly to extinction in the late 1800’s. Their feathers were in great demand for feather boas and fans and hats. They have also suffered with the draining and pollution of their wetland habitat. In the early 1900’s there were only a few dozen nesting pairs left on the continent. Fortunately, laws were passed outlawing the collection of the feathers, the demand for the feathers diminished and preserves were set aside to assure the survival of the birds. The numbers increased so much that today no special conservation status exists for the roseate spoonbill. These Beautiful Animals can be photographed in many places around Florida, but Amelia Island has proven to be a great place to observe and photograph this incredible bird!
You can observe these beautiful birds right from the boat. They like to hang out on the marsh.
Come join a Family Friendly Sunset Cruise and see for yourself! (continue…)