The roseate spoonbill is a large wading bird known for its pink plumage and distinctive spoon-shaped bill. Its upper neck and back are colored white, while the wings and feathers underneath display the more recognizable light shade of pink. The wings and tail coverts are deep red, along with the legs and the iris of the eyes. Part of the spoonbill's head is a distinct yellow-green. When they are young, the birds are duller in appearance, brightening as they mature.
Reaching a height of up to 2.5 feet (80 centimeters), the roseate spoonbill's wingspan can stretch 1.5 times as wide, reaching up to 4 feet (120 centimeters).
In the United States, the roseate spoonbill can be found in southern Florida, coastal Texas and southwestern Louisiana. Their breeding range extends south from Florida through the Greater Antilles to Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. Roseate spoonbills usually live in marsh-like areas and mangroves.
While feeding, spoonbills utter a low, guttural sound. They are also known to call during breeding displays and when flying.
Using its spoon-like bill to scoop prey up from shallow water, the roseate spoonbill's diet typically includes minnows, small crustaceans, insects and bits of plants. They feed in the early morning and evening hours in both fresh and saltwater wetlands. It is believed the roseate spoonbill receives its bright coloring from the pigments of the crustaceans that it eats.
At the Smithsonian's National Zoo, they are fed flamingo pellets, sea duck pellets and insects.
Typically roseate spoonbills do not breed until their third year. To attract one another, courtship displays include ritualized exchanges of nest material, dancing and clapping. Female spoonbills create deep, well-constructed nests out of sticks using materials brought to them by males. The Florida population usually nests in red and black mangroves sometimes with wood storks, while the Texas and Louisiana populations often nest on the ground in offshore island mixed colonies with gulls, terns and herons.
A female lays a clutch of one to five eggs. Both parents share incubation duties, which last about 22 to 24 days. A newly hatched chick has mostly pink skin with a sparse covering of white down. The parents feed the chick by dribbling regurgitated material into the baby's upturned bill. After one month, the chick will begin to exercise by clambering through the branches or foliage surrounding the nest, and by six weeks, it will have developed wing feathers large enough for flight.
The roseate spoonbill sleeps standing, usually on one leg, with its head tucked beneath its back and shoulder feathers.
They can live up to 15 years in human care and an estimated 10 years in the wild.
Between 1850 and 1890, the number of roseate spoonbills dropped dramatically as hunters began killing the birds for their feathers, which they sold for use in the construction of ladies' fans and hats, as well as for their meat. By the 1930s, the population dropped to a low of 30 to 40 breeding pairs nesting in a few small colonies on the keys of Florida Bay. The species eventually began to rebound, especially in isolated areas, once they gained full legal protection from hunting.
Now the birds' main threat is the destruction of their natural habitat. The ground nesting colonies in Texas and Louisiana are vulnerable to predators making their way in from the shore islands. Often this forces entire colonies to shift locations, sometimes to more vulnerable sites. Some populations show high levels of pesticides in their eggs, but they do not appear to be significantly impacted by egg shell thinning.