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Spoonbills - Aptly-named Wading Birds

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Wading Birds:
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There are several species of birds in the family Platalea known as Spoonbills. As their name suggests, they all have bills that are shaped like spoons. They are long-legged birds with long necks. They feed by sweeping their bills from side to side in water. The sensitive tips of their beaks enable them to detect and capture small water-based creatures such as insect larvae, snails, shrimps and fish. Spoonbill chicks (nicknamed 'teaspoons') don't have the spoon-shaped bill when they emerge from the egg, but the bill flattens out after about two weeks.

All of these species except the Black-faced Spoonbill are classed as of Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and their populations are stable. However, there are a number of potential threats to their survival, such as loss of habitat, pollution and disease. Ongoing conservation efforts aim to monitor populations and maintain habitats.

African Spoonbill

The African Spoonbill (Platalea alba) has white plumage, a pink face and a pink beak. They can be found across central, eastern and southern Africa, and also on the island of Madagascar.

Eurasian Spoonbill

The Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia) can be found around Europe, Asia and North Africa. Their plumage is predominantly white, but in the breeding season they develop an orange collar. They also develop plumes of long feathers on their heads. Their beaks are black.

Roseate Spoonbill

The Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) can be found in Central and South America. As its name suggests, its plumage is a rosy pink in colour. The pink colour develops because of carotenoids in the shrimps and crabs that they eat.

Royal Spoonbill

The Royal Spoonbill (Platalea regia) can be found in Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia. It has a black bill and face but, unlike its cousin the Black-faced Spoonbill, it does not have any orange feathers in its white plumage. In the breeding season it develops long white plumes on its head.

Yellow-billed Spoonbill

The Yellow-billed Spoonbill (Platalea flavipes) has yellow tints on its pinkish beak. These birds can be found only in Australia and New Zealand. There are resident populations around the southern coast, near Perth in the west and Melbourne in the east, but their feeding range stretches up to the north of Australia.

Black-faced Spoonbill

The Black-faced Spoonbill (Platalea minor), as its name suggests, has a black face. In other ways its appearance is the same as its Eurasian cousin, as it develops an orange collar and plumes on its head during the breeding season. The species has been classed as Endangered, as there are fewer than 5,000 birds living around the east coast of China. However, in recent years the population has increased thanks to protection of its habitat. Efforts to prevent pollution in those areas are ongoing.

Other Species

Spoonbills are not to be confused with the Spoon-billed Sandpiper (Calidris pygmaea). This small wading bird uses its spoon-shaped beak as more of a shovel than a probe. The species is critically endangered, as there are estimated to be fewer than 500 birds living in habitats across Eastern Russia and South East Asia.


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