By Ali Dunstan
Pretty in pink, the roseate spoonbill is one of Florida’s most bright and cheerfully colored birds.
Native to the state, they also carry a designation of threatened and imperiled species within Florida. They are state and federally protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Roseate spoonbills are easily identified by their unique pink coloration as well as their large, namesake spoon shaped bill. One of only six species of spoonbills, roseates are the only spoonbills that can be found in North America.
Their vivid pink color is a product of their diet. Feeding mostly on crustaceans and aquatic invertebrates such as crayfish, shrimp, crab and small fish, the color comes from pigments called carotenoids, which turn their feathers that unmistakable shade of pink.
While they are often mistaken for flamingos, spoonbills are not actually related to them. Social by nature, it is not uncommon to find roseate spoonbills around other larger, wading birds such as egrets or cranes. They also nest in colonies. The oldest, recorded spoonbill lived to be almost 15 years old.
These interesting birds most commonly breed around November through April but can reproduce at any time year-round. They typically lay three eggs, which take on average three and a half weeks to hatch.
Roseate spoonbills are not found within the entire state but can be most commonly spotted in coastal areas foraging in mangroves and marshes or roosting in trees or shrubs around cypress swamps. When observing a roseate spoonbill, be sure to pay close attention to how they eat. These foraging birds will walk slowly forward while moving their head from side to side to sift through mud and muck with their flattened, spoon-shaped bills. They are truly a sight to see.
Roseate spoonbills may have protections now, but they were once hunted to dangerously low numbers for their unique feathers. Their numbers have rebounded since this became illegal; however, they are still facing many issues. The most common threats to the roseate spoonbill include habitat loss, degradation, pollution and risks posed from the overuse of pesticides.
We can help these special birds continue to thrive within our beautiful state by keeping our mangroves and coastal habitats clean and environmentally sound. Remember to never feed wildlife and observe from a considerable distance. Together, we can keep Florida wild and coexist with our incredible biodiversity for generations to come.