Roseate Spoonbill

Platalea ajaja
Range Map

There are six known species of spoonbill, but in the New World, we find only the Roseate Spoonbill. Other species are native to Asia, Africa, Europe, and Australia. DNA analysis in 2010 showed enough genetic variation to justify two genera (Platibis and Ajaia), but because they were morphologically so similar, it made sense to keep them in the single genera Platibis or Platalea.

The specially adapted bill of these birds allows them to feed on prey that other waders miss. By swinging their bills in a side-to-side motion, they can filter invertebrates and other small items from the mud and shallow water, and like flamingos, they get their pink color from the carotenoids in the food they eat.

The Roseate Spoonbill breeds across much of the interior wetlands of South America, but in North America we rarely find them far from the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, or the west coast of mainland Mexico. However, in the early fall of 2020 I met this species in Arizona. The bird seems to have blown in from Sinaloa Mexico or Texas with a powerful storm during the previous summer and stayed to entertain the local birding community.

Two of my favorite memories from my 2021 Texas expedition were on High Island, north of Galveston, and South Padre Island. On High Island I met airborne spoonbills and other large waders nesting on a twelve acre rookery. Among the many spoonbills I met in south Texas, one bird on South Padre Island put on quite a show bathing only a few feet from me.

Modern science regards the Roseate Spoonbill as monotypic (i.e. no subspecies are recognised).

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