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Roseate Spoonbill Life History



Roseate Spoonbills forage in the shallows of fresh, brackish, and marine waters with good sources of aquatic invertebrates. These include bays and mangroves to forested swamps and roadside ditches. They nest and roost in trees and shrubs along the water's edge.

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Aquatic invertebrates

Roseate Spoonbills forage in shallow waters typically less than 5 inches deep. They sweep their partly opened spoon-shaped bill through the water, feeling and looking for crustaceans such as shrimp, prawns, aquatic insects, and fish. Once they feel the prey on their bill they snap it closed, often swallowing the item whole.

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Nest Placement


Roseate Spoonbills nest in colonies with egrets, ibises, and herons, typically on islands or over standing water. They nest in mangroves, Brazilian pepperbush, willows, sea myrtle, and other shrubs near the water. They tend to put their nests in the shadiest part of the tree or shrub, up to 16 feet high.

Nest Description

Males collect sticks for females to build a bulky platform lined with finer plant material such as moss and strips of bark. The completed nest is about 22 inches wide and 4.5 inches deep.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:1-5 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
Egg Length:2.2-2.8 in (5.7-7.2 cm)
Egg Width:1.6-1.9 in (4.1-4.8 cm)
Incubation Period:22 days
Nestling Period:35-42 days
Egg Description:

Whitish to pale green, evenly covered with brown spots.

Condition at Hatching:

Pink skinned and covered with white down. Eyed closed and unable to stand.

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Roseate Spoonbills slowly walk through shallow water with their bodies held horizontally and their spoon-shaped bill underwater feeling for prey. They sleep while standing, often on one leg with the head tucked under a shoulder. Roseate Spoonbills are social birds that gather in small to large (anywhere from 2 to around 400) groups when feeding and roosting. They fly to and from feeding and roosting areas with slow and deep wingbeats with their legs and neck fully extended. When foraging spoonbills spot a group of spoonbills flying overhead they stick their necks and bills straight up into the air in a posture called sky gazing. Spoonbills share the roosting and nesting colony with egrets, herons, and ibises. At colonies males bob their heads up and down while shaking nearby twigs to get the attention of a female. Interested pairs may bite each other's bills or may raise their outstretched wings above their body. Once paired, males present females with sticks, which they shake while holding them in their bills. Pairs generally stay together only for one breeding season.

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Low Concern

Roseate Spoonbills nest and forage in areas that can be difficult to reach, so obtaining an accurate estimate of their population is difficult. The best available estimates come from the North American Breeding Bird Survey and Partners in Flight. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, their populations increased by nearly 6.5% per year between 1966 and 2019. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 170,000 individuals and rates them 10 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. In Florida, much of their nesting habitat occurs in protected areas, including the Everglades National Park and national wildlife refuges, but their foraging areas are not and can be affected by changes in water management that increase salinity and affect food availability. Nesting spoonbills are also vulnerable to human disturbance from boating and other recreation activities that can result in nest abandonment.

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Dumas, Jeannette V. (2000). Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Dunne, P. (2006). Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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