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Spoonbills. Bird Orders Ciconiiformes-part 3

Updated on July 30, 2015

Black-faced Spoonbill



In part 3 of the order of birds known as the Ciconiiformes we look at the Spoonbill species, having looked at in part 1-the herons and their allies,and in part 2 the storks.

Spoonbills live near the edges of marshes or near the sea where the ground is shaded by thick bushes and they only sally from their cover to seize the small fishes which are brought in by the waves. They eat aquatic insects and small molluscs and crustaceans. They walk slowly forwards in shallow water,sweeping their partially opened bills from side to side until it detects food,the bill is then quickly closed trapping the prey inside.

They are birds of gentle disposition and tend to live in small troops,excepting during nesting time,and even then the pairs are never really far from each other. Like most birds of the banks and shores they are migratory. They are mostly found in eastern Europe locally in western Europe,breeding around reedy-lakes surrounded by bushes or other cover. They also feed on extensive salt pans,coastal marshes and other areas of shallow water. There are very few that winter in western Europe.

Where the birds are plentiful they migrate in large troops sometimes accompanying Storks and Cranes.

The Spoonbills of the order Ciconiiformes belong to the family of birds known as the Threskiornithidae,and one which borders on the 'Long billed' races in Cuvier's arrangement of birds.They are placed in the genus Platelea.

African Spoonbill

The photograph was taken by Rute Martins in South Africa
The photograph was taken by Rute Martins in South Africa | Source

General characteristics.

The bill of these birds is very long and very recognisable. It is stout,much depressed and enlarged and rounded to a spoon-shape at the extremities from which the birds take their common name. The upper mandible is channelled and furrowed transversely in the basal parts. The nostrils on the upper surface of the bill,and near to each other, open of a long oblong shape and bordered with a membrane. The face and part of the head is naked of feathers .

The legs are long and strong. The feet have four toes,three to the front and one to the rear,and the three front ones united as far as the second joint by a deeply notched membrane. Unlike the Herons they fly with their neck stretched outwards

Young Eurasian Spoonbills in nest

Taken in Ostfriesland,Lower Saxony Germany.
Taken in Ostfriesland,Lower Saxony Germany. | Source

Spoonbills nest and Young.

The nest is formed externally by sticks and carelessly lined with vegetable fibre.The nest may be located in various places according to situation. Sometimes the nest is in trees,sometimes in close bushes and sometimes in the tall reeds or other aquatic vegetation.

The eggs which generally number 3-4 are of a dullish white background colour,marked with a few russet spots. the female sits very closely during the incubation period. When the young make their appearance they are covered with down and capable of running about. When they are alarmed or otherwise excited they make a snapping sound with their beaks.

Eurasian Spoonbill feeding near Barcelona Spain

Originally posted to Flickr uploaded to Commons via benjli
Originally posted to Flickr uploaded to Commons via benjli | Source

A look at the species. The White Spoonbill Platalea leucrodia

We commence with the White Spoonbill which is also referred to as the Eurasian Spoonbill a bird that is thirty two-thirty seven inches long {80-93 cm} and weighs two and a quarter to three and a quarter pounds {1.5 kg.}.

It breeds in the UK { in limited numbers} and Spain in the west, through to Japan and also North Africa. However, only the Netherlands,Spain,Austria, Hungary and Greece have sizeable populations.

Feeding and other habits.---Due to its retiring habits this species is not very conspicuous. Early in the morning and late evening is its feeding times,when the weather is dry,however, during rain it may be encountered feeding at other times. As is the case with most,if not all, of the larger birds of the banks of rivers,it eats voraciously when the food is to be had, but it is also capable of abstinence if this is necessary. This may be necessary in the case of drought or partial inundulations during the summer.

Eurasian Spoonbill


Description of the Eurasian Spoonbill.

The general plumage colour is white,with the exception of a large collar of reddish yellow which extends downwards to form a breast 'plate' The length of the bill is eight to nine inches. The forehead and cheeks, the throat are naked and of a pale yellowish colour, with a tint of reddish colouring on the lower part of the throat. This colouring is not obvious from a distance.

The bill is black,with waved furrows across the upper mandible,the deepest parts of which are bluish. There are triangular lateral grooves fro the basal half of the length and these pass into thread-like shaped furrows for the remaining part. The enlarged portion towards the tip is yellow with a black border,and the lower mandible is wholly black,with a triangular furrow in the basal half and a narrow groove in the remainder.

The head is furnished with long crest of awl-shaped feathers. The female is of a smaller size than the male and the crest on the occuput considerably shorter and the mark on the throat not as distinct. The legs are long,thick and black..

Black faced Spoonbill

Originally posted to Flickr uploaded to Commons via Attis1979
Originally posted to Flickr uploaded to Commons via Attis1979 | Source

A look at World Species commencing with the Black-faced Spoonbill

The Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor, has the most restricted distribution of all the Spoonbills, and is currently the only one which is classed as endangered. The species is confined to the coastal areas of eastern Asia. It was once common throughout its range.

It has a niche existence on only a few rocky islands of the west coast of North Korea with four wintering sites at Marau,Hong Kong,Taiwan and Vietnam. They may be encountered at other places during migration.

African Spoonbill

Taken at Lake Nakura Kenya
Taken at Lake Nakura Kenya | Source

African Spoonbill Patalea alba.

This species breeds i Africa and Madagascar and is another large species very similar to the Eurasian Spoonbill,featured above. However, it is distinguished by its pink face and usually paler bill.

The frequent marshy wetlands with some open shallow water and they nest in colonies in trees and reed beds. The bird is all white with the exception of the pink face and legs and long grey spatulate bill. It has no crest unlike the Eurasian Spoonbill.

Royal Spoonbill with open mouth.


The Royal Spoonbill.

The Royal Spoonbill Patalea vegia is most common in south east Australia,but regularly found in smaller numbers on other parts of that continent,when temporarily wetlands form. They are also found in New Zealand, particularly so on the South Island and sometimes as stragglers in New Guinea,Indonesia and the Pacific islands.

The Royal spoonbill is also referred to as the black-billed Spoonbill and it is a species that occurs in inter-tidal flats and the shallows of fresh and salt water wetlands.

It is a large white bird with a black spoon-shaped bill and it is about thirty one inches tall and weighs three point one to four point six pounds. The end of the bill is broader and works like a pair of tongues rather than the narrower bill of the Yellow-billed Spoonbill which acts like forceps.

In the breeding season long white plumes adorn the back of the head and the coloured patches appear on the face.This species is particularly sensitive to disturbance during the nesting season and the female will readily desert her eggs when disturbance occurs.

Yellow-billed Spoonbill

Taken at Perth Zoo.
Taken at Perth Zoo. | Source

Yellow-billed Spoonbill. Platalea flavipes

This species is abundant in South East Australia and more or less occurs throughout the continent and occurs on migration in New Zealand. It is a bird about thirty five inches long with a generally white plumage and yellow bill. The legs and feet are also yellowish. The wings have black tips.

They feed largely on aquatic life by sweeping its bill from side to side in the manner of all Spoonbills,both sexes are similar in appearance. The nest is a platform of sticks,with a hollowed centre and may be located on the branches or fork of a tree,the trunk of which is often submerged in water. They also nest in reed beds. The eggs which are of a dull white colour number two to four. They nest in colonies often with other species such as the Royal Spoonbill as well as Herons or Egrets.

Roseate Spoonbill. Platelea ajaja

Sarasota County Florida USA.
Sarasota County Florida USA. | Source

The Roseate Spoonbill.

The Roseate Spoonbill,Platalea ajaja {Sometimes referred to by the Scientific name of Ajaja ajaja} is a species of South America,the Caribbean and the some southern states of the USA. It is a gregarious wading bird and is thought their closest relative is the Yellow billed Spoonbill {featured above}

The bird is about twenty eight to thirty four inches long and weighs two point six to four pounds.The adult bird have a bare greenish head which turns to a golden buff when in breeding plumage and a whitish neck,back and breast ,witha tuft of pink feathers in the breeding season. The rest of the plumage is a deep pink colour. The bill is elongated and spoon-shaped and of a grey colour.

It is a species that nests in shrubs and trees,often Mangroves. The female will deposit two eggs which are whitish with brown markings. The young have white feathered heads and the pink of the plumage is paler.

Roseate Spoonbill with two chicks.

Originally posted to Flickr.
Originally posted to Flickr. | Source


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi Deb,

      I believe this is the case with the Flamingos as well. Glad to have introduced you to the others. Best wishes top you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      The Roseate Spoonbill gets its coloring from the shrimp that it eats. I have never seen the other spoonbills, so I really appreciate this piece.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hello Devika I know your busy with your summer employment and I appreciate you taking the time to read and to leave your kind words and votes all of which is much appreciated.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Hi D.A.L. I haven't commented in a while time is so rare these days to sit at the computer. I really enjoyed reading the interesting facts of another unique bird from you. Voted up, interesting, useful


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