In the pink: Roseate spoonbills

Roseate spoonbills, Platalea ajaja, are an ill-assorted mixture of delicate beauty and clumsy absurdity. Their elegant feathers shade from white through shell-pink to coral, but their comically oversized bills are spatula-shaped with rounded ends. They are a New World species, and I have seen them once before, in the Pantanal in Brazil. In the USA, they are limited to coastal areas in Florida and Texas

To my delight, there is one tiny (non-breeding) colony of them here in South Carolina, at the Donnelley Wildlife Management Area, and the conservationist Dana Beach explained how to find it, so off we went. We drove around in a circle for a while, failing to see anything, and just as we were on the verge of deciding to abort, there they were.

They are waders, nearly three feet tall, and mainly feed on crustaceans and fish.

The crustaceans are responsible for the pink coloration of their feathers (just as they are for flamingoes), which get pinker with age.

Lesser Yellowlegs and Roseate Spoonbill

They feed by scything their bills from side to side as they slowly move forward:

The bills are translucent:

We admired them for a while, then decided to picnic a little further down the pond. They moved too, and as we continued to watch we realized that they were behaving rather oddly. They were clustered together, poking at something in the water.

It was an alligator, and they poked and pecked at it for more than five minutes, and the alligator was astonishingly not goaded into retaliation.

Occasionally it did spook them a little:

But not enough to scare them off:

We have since asked around, and failed to find any reports of this behavior, except for one story in the Daily Mail!

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2170900/Curious-spoonbill-birds-peck-ish–alligator-fortunately-unwanted-attention-didnt-make-deadly-reptile-snap.html

Alligators are in fact useful to spoonbills, because they eat predators like raccoons who might otherwise threaten the spoonbills’ land-based nests, so I don’t know why the spoonbills harassed it (nor why it didn’t fight back). One possibility is that its skin was encrusted with tiny edible creatures that spoonbills enjoy, and that the alligator is happy to be rid of, just as tiny fish groom bigger fish.

After all that activity, the show ended with a grooming session:

PS All of these are juveniles, since they have a completely feathered head. After about 15 months it becomes pale yellowish green and nearly bald.

5 thoughts on “In the pink: Roseate spoonbills”

  1. Perhaps they weren’t afraid of the alligator due to their youthfulness and lack of experience? Love the photography. They remind me a little of pelicans with their long beaks and profiles. I think we don’t have them in California so it is a treat to be able to see them like this. Thank you Moira!

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  2. I loved your description and loved seeing them in Africa… didn’t know they were here in the US.

    On Mon, Apr 5, 2021 at 11:27 AM Eyes on the Wild wrote:

    > myip2014 posted: ” Roseate spoonbills, Platalea ajaja, are an ill-assorted > mixture of delicate beauty and clumsy absurdity. Their elegant feathers > shade from white through shell-pink to coral, but their comically oversized > bills are spatula-shaped with rounded ends. They ” >

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  3. Fascinating blog, yet, again. Alligator gets some gold stars, for being so nice. The spoon bills have some rather large and beautiful wing feathers. They become nearly bald early in age…females, too? Spoonbills were my favorite bird, when I was little, playing Bird Lotto. You’re among all the wildlife action, Moira.

    Like

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