Saturday, January 25, 2014

Roseate Spoonbill

Last year when we visited Florida and Everglades National Park I really wanted to get a picture of a roseate spoonbill. The famous birder, Roger Tory Peterson, called the roseate spoonbill "one of the most breathtaking of the world's weirdest birds." We did see several spoonbills from long distances, and their breath-taking pink color was fabulous, but were never able to get a good view or the elusive picture. This year on my visit to Florida (I have had seminars in January in Florida the past two years) I had an opportunity to visit Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge on Cape Canaveral, adjacent to NASA's Kennedy Space Center (on the Atlantic Coast) and the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, on the Gulf Coast, near Fort Myers. It appears those places are two of the best places in the U.S. to view roseate spoonbills. In fact, the Wikipedia article on roseate spoonbills mentions only those two places, Merritt Island as a place they breed and Darling as a good place to see them. Both places are amazing venues to see many kinds of birds and I did see spoonbills at each place. 
Spoonbill at Merritt Island: from Biolab Road.
Even from a distance the red eye stands out. Note the pink shadow in the water.
Getting ready for the night: Just off the Indigo Trail in J.N. "Ding" Darling NWR. Standing on one leg and bill tucked behind on the back under feathers.
This was about 5:30 p.m. When I came back the next morning they were gone. A ranger told me that they are only in this spot in the evenings.
While the others have gone into "hibernation," this fellow gives me some great close-up opportunities.
One of the distinctive features of the roseate spoonbill is the long spoon-shaped gray bill which it sweeps from side to side in shallow water to collect things it likes to eat, including small fish, amphibians, mollusks, shrimp, snails and insects. Another distinctive feature is the pink to red color, including dark red eyes and legs, and light pink wings with a dark red fringe. Add to that color some orange on the tail feathers, face and shoulders, a green tinge on the bald head and a dark band around the base of the skull. The neck, chest and upper back are white. Like a flamingo, the pink color comes from its diet of crustaceans that feed on certain types of algae. The depth of pink and redness are influenced by the age of the bird (they get pinker as they get older) and the quality of the diet.  
Close-up they're quite ugly: wrinkled light-green skull cap, dark ridge around the skull, blood-shot red eyes, orange around the eyes like bad eye liner, wrinkled and bar neck skin, and a bill reminiscent of a stork.
The bill from another angle, looking up into the air.
Looking into the air from another angle: orange around the eyes and a peek inside the long bill. Also a different look at the black around the skull. 
But then you look at the dark red, orange and pink and hardly notice the bill.
With the bill hidden behind in the back feathers you notice the red legs, orange around the eye and orange on the tail feathers. Has a cyclopian look. 
Roseate spoonbills were nearly extinct in the U.S. by about 1900. There were only a few dozen nesting pairs left: victims of the popularity of their feathers for womens' hats and the decimation of the environments they inhabited. Today, through conservation, they've made a comeback and they are no longer considered an endangered species. There are over a thousand nesting pairs in Florida now.  
A roseate spoonbill getting ready to fly with a great white egret to the right and two snowy egrets behind it: along the Wildlife Drive at Darling NWR.


  1. Vulture + flamingo + duck. Weirdly beautiful bird.

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  3. Such gorgeous pink plumage on such a wacky bird

  4. Beautiful picks..