Roseate Spoonbill

Ajaia ajaja

(c) Shawn Carey
  • THRESKIORNITHIDAE
  • Ibises, Spoonbills
  • Ciconiiformes
  • Espátula Rosada
  • Spatule rosée
Introduction
The Roseate Spoonbill is at once beautiful and bizarre. Its rose-colored plumage is striking even from a distance. Viewed more closely, the bald greenish head and unusual spoon-shaped bill of this elegantly plumed bird are apparent. Thanks to conservation efforts, the species has recovered significantly from near-decimation during the plume-hunting era.
(c) Shawn Carey
Appearance Description

The adult Roseate Spoonbill is among the most striking North American birds. Nearly three feet tall, adults have long reddish legs, a pink body, and pink wings with deep red highlights. The neck and breast are mostly white, and there are touches of orange on the rump, face, and shoulders. Most unusual is the unfeathered head, which can be yellow or greenish, and the long, spatulate bill, for which the species is named. With a wingspan of about 50 inches, adult spoonbills weigh over three pounds. Immature birds are paler overall, with feathered white heads.

Range Map
Courtesy Kenn Kaufman
Range Distribution
Only the northern edge of the Roseate Spoonbill's range lies within the United States. This neotropical bird can be found in many areas around the Gulf of Mexico, and breeds in Texas, Louisiana, and Florida. Florida populations occur in the southern half of the state. Roseate Spoonbills are also found in Mexico, Central America, and South America, as well as across the West Indies and Greater Antilles.   
 
A legend for the range map to the right can be found here.
Habitat

Coastal marshes, wetlands, and mangrove keys are the Roseate Spoonbills' preferred habitat. Away from the coast, the birds are found in a variety of areas, including ponds, marshes, and forested swamps. When feeding, they make use of either fresh or saltwater habitats. Nesting often occurs on islands or in small trees or shrubs surrounded by water.

Feeding

The Roseate Spoonbill feeds by wading through shallow water, head down, probing the bottom by sweeping its long, spoon-shaped bill back and forth in the water. Prey is detected by touch, and the bill snaps immediately shut around the small fish, crustaceans, and insects that make up the bulk of the diet. Roseate Spoonbills attain their pink coloration from the pigments attained from the crustaceans that they feed upon. The species also forages visually on land.

Reproduction
Depending on their location, Roseate Spoonbills may breed as early as December, or as late as May or June. Courtship often involves aggressive displays, but courting birds also sit close together, crossing or clasping bills. Once paired, the female builds a platform nest with materials supplied by the male, and lays her white, brown-streaked eggs. Both parents take turns incubating the clutch, which averages three eggs. The parents also share responsibility for feeding and brooding the young birds. Young can leave the nest by the sixth week, and are capable of flight by the eighth. Upon leaving the nest, juvenile birds flock together, but continue to be fed by the parents.
Migration
Some Roseate Spoonbill populations migrate. Inland populations often move toward the coast following the breeding season. The species may also disperse widely after breeding, based upon food, habitat, or environmental conditions. Immature birds are particularly prone to wander far from the breeding range. Texas birds may move south in the winter, while some Florida birds winter in Cuba. Much remains to be learned regarding this bird's migratory patterns.
  • 175,000
  • 30,750
  • No current conservation concerns
Population Status Trends
In the United States, Roseate Spoonbill numbers have rebounded over recent decades, though the current population is still less than what it was before the plume-hunting era. Although the species is increasing in numbers, it remains a Species of Special Concern in both Florida and Louisiana.
Conservation Issues
Roseate Spoonbill numbers were reduced to near extinction by the late 19th century. The bird was hunted ruthlessly, its plumes used in ladies' hats, and its wings sold as fans. By 1939, about 30 birds were all that remained of the thousands that formerly inhabited Florida. 
 
The greatest current threat to the Roseate Spoonbill is habitat loss. As coastal marshes are drained, developed, or polluted by industry, less suitable breeding habitat is available for the birds--a particular concern in coastal Louisiana.  While many Roseate Spoonbill nesting colonies are within protected areas, their foraging sites are often unprotected and prone to human disturbance. The species also faces persecution in parts of Central and South America.
What You Can Do
Remain aware of local, regional, and federal land management decisions, particularly those that affect our wetlands. 
 
Contact your legislators in support of wise land management initiatives, such as wetland restoration along the Gulf Coast, and The North American Waterfowl Management Plan.
 
For actions you can take, including Audubon activities, please visit our resources page.
More Information
Audubon of Florida's Everglades Conservation Network is dedicated to the restoration and protection of the Everglades, one of America's most unique ecosystems. Florida's Everglades hosts one of the largest concentrations of endangered and threatened species in the US, including breeding Roseate Spoonbills.
 
America's Wetland, a campaign to save coastal Louisiana, maintains timely information regarding coastal land loss at its website. The marshland of coastal Louisiana is crucial habitat for many waterbird species, including Roseate Spoonbills.
 
Visit our resources page for more information about this species.
Natural History References
Austin, Oliver L. Birds of the World. Golden Press, New York. 1961.
 
Bent, A. C. 1926. Life Histories of North American Marsh Birds. U.S. Natl. Mus. Bull. 135.
 
Dumas, J. V. 2000. Roseate Spoonbill (Ajaia ajaja). In The Birds of North America, No. 490 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
 
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. 2003, January 6. Florida's breeding bird atlas: A collaborative study of Florida's birdlife: www.myfwc.com/bba/
 
Kaufman, Kenn. 1996. Lives of North American Birds. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York.
Conservation Status References
Austin, Oliver L. Birds of the World. Golden Press, New York. 1961.
 
Bent, A. C. 1926. Life Histories of North American Marsh Birds. U.S. Natl. Mus. Bull. 135.
 
Dumas, J. V. 2000. Roseate Spoonbill (Ajaia ajaja). In The Birds of North America, No. 490 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
 
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. 2003, January 6. Florida's breeding bird atlas: A collaborative study of Florida's birdlife: http://www.myfwc.com/bba/
 
Kaufman, Kenn. 1996. Lives of North American Birds. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York.