Unsorted Wild Birds

Spoonbills / Wading Birds (family Threskiornithidae)

Note: “Spoonbills” could also refer to Northern Shoveler or Paddlefish.

Spoonbills are a group of large, long-legged wading birds in the family Threskiornithidae, which also includes the Ibises.

The spoonbill family is one of the families in the order Ciconiiformes.


All have large, flat, spatulate bills and feed by wading through shallow water, sweeping the partly-opened bill from side to side. The moment any small aquatic creature touches the inside of the bill—an insect, crustacean, or tiny fish—it is snapped shut. Spoonbills generally prefer fresh water to salt but are found in both environments. They need to feed for many hours each day.

Nesting / Breeding:

Spoonbills are monogamous, but, so far as is known, only for one season at a time. Most species nest in trees or reed beds, often with ibises or herons. The male gathers nesting material—mostly sticks and reeds, sometimes taken from an old nest—and the female weaves it into a large, shallow bowl or platform which varies in its shape and structural integrity according to species.

The female lays a clutch of about 3 smooth, oval, white eggs and both parents incubate; chicks hatch one at a time rather than all together. The newly hatched young are blind and cannot care for themselves immediately; both parents feed them by partial regurgitation. Chicks’ bills are short and straight, and only gain the characteristic spoonbill shape as they mature. Their feeding continues for a few weeks longer after the family leaves the nest. The primary cause of brood failure appears not to be predation but starvation.

African Spoonbill (Platalea alba) - with her chicks on nest


Species and distribution

The six species of spoonbill in two genera are distributed over much of the world.

Yellow-billed Spoonbill
  • Eurasian or Common Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia): This is the most widespread species, which occurs in the northeast of Africa and much of Europe and Asia across to Japan. Adults and juveniles are largely white with black outer wingtips and dark bills and legs. Breeds in reed beds, usually without other species.
  • Black-faced Spoonbill (Platalea minor): Found in Taiwan, China, Korea, and Japan.
  • African Spoonbill (Platalea alba): Breeds in Africa and Madagascar. A large white species similar to the Common Spoonbill, from which it can be distinguished by its pink face and usually paler bill. Its food includes insects and other small creatures, and it nests in trees, marshes, or rocks.
  • Royal Spoonbill (Platalea regia): Most common in south-east Australia, but regularly found in smaller numbers on other parts of the continent when temporary wetlands form; in New Zealand, particularly the South Island, and sometimes as stragglers in New Guinea, Indonesia, and the Pacific Islands. Its food is aquatic life, and it nests in trees, marshes, or reed beds.
  • Yellow-billed Spoonbill (Platalea flavipes): Common in southeast Australia, not unusual on the remainder of the continent, vagrant to New Zealand, Lord Howe Island, and Norfolk Island. Its food includes aquatic life, and it nests in trees, marshes, or reed beds.
  • Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja or Ajaia ajaja): Adults are largely pink. They occur in South America, the Caribbean, Texas, and southern Florida USA. They nest in mangroves or other trees and feed on aquatic life.

Gordon Ramel

Gordon is an ecologist with two degrees from Exeter University. He's also a teacher, a poet and the owner of 1,152 books. Oh - and he wrote this website.

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