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31 Oct 2018
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Sanibel Wildlife

The Roseate Spoonbill is a large wading bird. It is commonly found in Southern Florida and can be seen on Sanibel year round. Typically the best time of year to see them in JN “Ding” Darling is in October and November, especially in the early morning or late evening.

This species can grow up to 38 inches tall with a 47 – 52 inch wingspan and can weigh up to 4 pounds. They are easily distinguished by their large size and pink feathers. This pink coloration of the Spoonbill feathers is caused by an abundance of carotenoids, or algae pigments in the food it eats. As they age and have accumulated more in the food they have ingested, their coloring becomes darker. The spoon-shaped bill allows the bird to forage for its food by sweeping its head from side to side as it walks through shallow water. When the sensitive nerves along the upper and lower bill feel prey move, the Spoonbill clamps its bill shut.

The spoonbill shape is also used in courtship dances, which includes nest material exchanges, dancing and bill clapping. They typically don’t bread until the age of 3, when they reach full size and have grown breeding plumage. This plumage is used to attract a breeding mate.

Due to their beautiful plumage they were nearly brought to extinction in the late 1800’s. Their feathers were in high demand for feather boas, fans and hats. They also suffered with draining and pollution of their wetlands. In the early 1900’s there were only about 30 breeding pairs. Fortunately, laws were passed outlawing the collection of their feathers. The demand for feathers diminished and preserves were set aside to assure the survival of the birds. The number increased so much that today no special conservation status exists for the Roseate Spoonbill.