Roseate spoonbills occur from southern Georgia and Florida, south through Central American, the Caribbean, and South America to Argentina.
Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); neotropical (Native )
Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) Resident locally from northern Sinaloa, Gulf coast of Texas and Louisiana, and southern Florida (as far north as Tampa Bay on Gulf Coast) south locally along both coasts of Middle America and through Greater Antilles, and Bahamas to Uruguay, central Chile, and central Argentina. About 80% of U.S. breeders occur in southern Florida (24%) and eastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana (46%) (Spendelow and Patton 1988). In the U.S., the highest winter densities occur on the Gulf coast of Texas and western Louisiana and in southern Florida (Root 1988). Wanders outside usual range.
occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
- Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2014. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: Version 6.9. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
The upper neck and back of the Roseate Spoonbill are white. The wings and the under parts are a shade of light rose. The wings and the tail coverts are a deep carmine. The legs and the iris are red in color. Parts of the Spoonbills head is a distinct yellow-green. The most distinctive feature on the Spoonbill, is the spoon-like bill itself. The bill, which is spoon-like in shape from birth, flattens out at the end to aid in feeding. The Spoonbill is about 32" in length.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Average mass: 1036.97 g.
Length: 81 cm
Weight: 1496 grams
No other large wading bird in the New World has a spatulate bill.
Roseate spoonbills are usually found in marsh like areas, especially mangrove swamps and mud flats. Spoonbills create large, deep, well-constructed nests out of sticks, much like the nests of herons, in mangrove trees.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial ; saltwater or marine ; freshwater
Aquatic Biomes: brackish water
Other Habitat Features: estuarine
Habitat and Ecology
Comments: Marshes, swamps, ponds, rivers, and lagoons (AOU 1983); also tidal flats. Seems to prefer brackish waters and coastal bays in Florida and Texas, freshwater marshes in Louisiana (Spendelow and Patton 1988). Wherever shallow, open, still or slow-flowing water occurs (Stiles and Skutch 1989). Nests in mangroves (e.g., Florida), in low bushes along coastal islands and on ground on treeless spoil banks along waterways (e.g., Texas and Louisiana).
Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.
Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
Some birds migrate between Texas-Louisiana and Mexico and between Florida and Cuba. In Costa Rica, pronounced seasonal movements reflect changes in water level (Stiles and Skutch 1989).
The Roseate Spoonbill feeds in a special way. It uses its spoon-like bill to scoop various things from shallow water. By swishing the bill back and forth in the water, the Spoonbill is able to pick up minnows, small crustaceans, bits of plants and insects. The Spoonbill usually feeds in shallow, muddy water, usually found around its marshy or mangrove infested environment. While feeding, Spoonbills utter a low, gutteral sound.
Comments: Eats small fishes, crustaceans, mollusks, aquatic insects; forages in shallow water (Palmer 1962); sometimes stirs up bottom mud with feet to flush prey.
Number of Occurrences
Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.
Estimated Number of Occurrences: 81 to >300
10,000 to >1,000,000 individuals
Comments: Coastal U.S. breeding population: Florida coast = 1500, Gulf Coast = about 4200 (Spendelow and Patton 1988).
Gregarious; usually feeds, roosts and nests in groups or flocks (Stiles and Skutch 1989).
Life History and Behavior
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Comments: Forages primarily at night but also during daylight in Florida Bay (Powell 1987).
Status: wild: 28 (high) years.
Status: wild: 190 months.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous
Average time to hatching: 23 days.
Average eggs per season: 3.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
Sex: male: 1095 days.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
Sex: female: 1095 days.
Clutch size usually is 2-3. Incubation lasts 23-24 days, by both sexes. Young are tended by both parents, leave nest at 5-6 weeks, fly well at 7-8 weeks, fed until about the eighth week.
Evolution and Systematics
The long, spatulate bill of the roseate spoonbill aids in filter feeding as it is swept, partially open, from side to side in the water.
"The roseate spoonbill has a slightly specialized bill. As it feeds, it sweeps its partly open bill from side to side, filtering crustaceans from the water." (Foy and Oxford Scientific Films 1982:157)
Learn more about this functional adaptation.
- Foy, Sally; Oxford Scientific Films. 1982. The Grand Design: Form and Colour in Animals. Lingfield, Surrey, U.K.: BLA Publishing Limited for J.M.Dent & Sons Ltd, Aldine House, London. 238 p.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Platalea ajaja
Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Platalea ajaja
Public Records: 4
Specimens with Barcodes: 7
Species With Barcodes: 1
In the middle of the century, Roseate Spoonbills were heavily hunted for their brilliant and distinct red colored feathers. In recent years however, the Spoonbill has come back strong in certain isolated areas. Now, the main threat to the continuation of the species is the destruction of natural habitat. More and more shallow water habitats are being destroyed everyday. The survival of the Spoonbill depends on the survival of its habitat.
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N4 - Apparently Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Reasons: Very large range, locally fairly common. Secure on a global basis, but regional trends are unknown for most areas.
Degree of Threat: C : Not very threatened throughout its range, communities often provide natural resources that when exploited alter the composition and structure over the short-term, or communities are self-protecting because they are unsuitable for other uses
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
The Roseate Spoonbill is a species found mainly in Florida. Many avid bird watchers come to Florida to see this beautiful creature. This attraction, therefore, helps the economy. The feathers of the bird were heavily sought after in the middle of the century, but this practice has died out, due to the fact that the species almost became extinct.
The roseate spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) (sometimes placed in its own genus Ajaja) is a gregarious wading bird of the ibis and spoonbill family, Threskiornithidae. It is a resident breeder in South America mostly east of the Andes, and in coastal regions of the Caribbean, Central America, Mexico, the Gulf Coast of the United States  and on central Florida's Atlantic coast Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge adjoined with NASA Kennedy Space Center.
A 2010 study of mitochondrial DNA of the spoonbills by Chesser and colleagues found that the roseate and yellow-billed spoonbills were each other's closest relatives, and the two were descended from an early offshoot from the ancestors of the other four spoonbill species. They felt the genetic evidence meant it was equally valid to consider all six to be classified within the genus Platalea or alternatively the two placed in the monotypic genera Platibis and Ajaja, respectively. However, as the six species were so similar morphologically, keeping them within the one genus made more sense.
The roseate spoonbill is 71–86 cm (28–34 in) long, with a 120–133 cm (47–52 in) wingspan and a body mass of 1.2–1.8 kg (2.6–4.0 lb). The tarsus measures 9.7–12.4 cm (3.8–4.9 in), the culmen measures 14.5–18 cm (5.7–7.1 in) and the wing measures 32.3–37.5 cm (12.7–14.8 in) and thus the legs, bill, neck and spatulate bill all appear elongated. Adults have a bare greenish head ("golden buff" when breeding) and a white neck, back and breast (with a tuft of pink feathers in the center when breeding), and are otherwise a deep pink. The bill is grey. There is no significant sexual dimorphism.
Like the American flamingo, their pink color is diet-derived, consisting of the carotenoid pigment canthaxanthin. Another carotenoid, astaxanthin, can also be found deposited in flight and body feathers. The colors can range from pale pink to bright magenta, depending on age and location. Unlike herons, spoonbills fly with their necks outstretched. They alternate groups of stiff, shallow wingbeats with glides.
This species feeds in shallow fresh or coastal waters by swinging its bill from side to side as it steadily walks through the water, often in groups. The spoon-shaped bill allows it to sift easily through mud. It feeds on crustaceans, aquatic insects, frogs, newts and very small fish ignored by larger waders. In the United States, a popular place to observe roseate spoonbills is "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. Roseate spoonbills must compete for food with snowy egrets, great egrets, tricolored herons and American white pelicans.
The roseate spoonbill nests in shrubs or trees, often mangroves, laying two to five eggs, which are whitish with brown markings. Immature birds have white, feathered heads, and the pink of the plumage is paler. The bill is yellowish or pinkish.
Information about predation on adults is lacking. Nestlings are sometimes killed by turkey vultures, bald eagles, raccoons and fire ants. In 2006, a 16-year-old banded bird was discovered, making it the oldest wild individual.
- BirdLife International (2012). "Platalea ajaja". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
- "Roseate Spoonbill". Waterbird Conservation. National Audubon Society. Archived from the original on 2008-10-24. Retrieved 2009-07-23.
- Dumas, Jeannette V. 2000. Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Retrieved 2009-11-12. Subscription required
- Graham, Jr., Frank. "A Wing and a Prayer". Audubon Magazine. Retrieved July–August 2001.
- Chesser, R.Terry; Yeung, Carol K.L.; Yao, Cheng-Te; Tians, Xiu-Hua; Li Shou-Hsien (2010). "Molecular phylogeny of the spoonbills (Aves: Threskiornithidae) based on mitochondrial DNA". Zootaxa (2603): 53–60. ISSN 1175-5326.
-  (2011).
- Hancock, Kushlan & Kahl (1992). Storks, Ibises, and Spoonbills of the World. Academic Press. ISBN 978-0-12-322730-0.
- Howell, SNG; Webb, S (1995). A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America. Oxford University Press. pp. 147–8. ISBN 0-19-854012-4.
- Brush, A. H. 1990. Metabolism of cartenoid pigments in birds. The FASEB Journal. 4:2969-2977.
Fox, D. L. 1962. Carotenoids of the Roseate Spoonbill. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology 6:305-310.
(Mentioned in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology page).
- Howell, SNG; Webb, S (1995). A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America. Oxford University Press. pp. 147–8. ISBN 0-19-854012-4
- "Researchers: Oldest Wild Spoonbill Found - Care2 News Network". Care2.com. 2006-05-29. Retrieved 2012-02-20.
Names and Taxonomy
Comments: Formerly placed in the genus Ajaia. AOU (2002) recommended merging Ajaia into Platalea, although the evidence is disputable.