The colonially nesting Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) is a medium-sized, pink-bodied, ibis-like bird with a flat spatula-shaped bill. These birds are found in the southeastern United States and West Indies through Mexico and Central America to South America, where they are distributed south to northern Argentina east of the Andes and western Ecuador and northwestern Peru west of the Andes. They are uncommon to locally common throughout their extensive range. Throughout much of their range, the species is apparently declining as a result of habitat alteration, hunting, and pollution. In the United States, Roseate Spoonbills were common along the Gulf Coast in the early 19th Century, but were almost exterminated in the 1930s by intense persecution and destruction of wading bird colonies for the plume trade starting in the 1880s. They were legally protected in the 1940s, after which populations recovered somewhat, but declines apparently followed later in the 20th century as a consequence of mosquito control programs and alteration of breeding and feeding habitats.
These highly gregarious waders often feed by sweeping the bill side to side, sifting through mud as they walk through shallow water. Their diet includes small fishes and aquatic invertebrates, as well as some plant material. They are found in coastal marshes, lagoons, mudflats, and mangrove keys, foraging in both salt and fresh water. Flocks typically include fewer than half a dozen individuals, but they are often associated with other wading birds as well. In courtship, male and female spoonbills first interact aggressively, then perch close together, presenting sticks to each other and crossing and clasping bills. They typically nest in mangroves or other trees and shrubs 5 to 15 feet above ground or water, but sometimes nest on the ground. The nest, a bulky platform of sticks with a deep twig- and leaf-lined center, is built mainly by the female with material brought by the male. Clutch size is 2 to 3 eggs (range 1 to 5). The white eggs are spotted with brown. Eggs are incubated (by both sexes) for 22 to 24 days. Both parents feed the young. Young may leave the nest after 5 to 6 weeks and are capable of strong flight at around 7 to 8 weeks. Roseate Spoonbills are mostly silent, but make a soft frog-like croak when disturbed.
(Matheu and del Hoyo 1992; Kaufman 1996; AOU 1998; Dunne 2006)
The colonially nesting Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) is a medium-sized, pink-bodied, ibis-like bird with a flat spatula-shaped bill. These birds are found in the southeastern United States and West Indies through Mexico and Central America to South America, where they are distributed south to northern Argentina east of the Andes and in western Ecuador and northwestern Peru west of the Andes. They are uncommon to locally common throughout their extensive range. Throughout much of their range, the species is apparently declining as a result of habitat alteration, hunting, and pollution. In the United States, Roseate Spoonbills were common along the Gulf Coast in the early 19th Century, but were almost exterminated in the 1930s by intense persecution and destruction of wading bird colonies for the plume trade starting in the 1880s. They were legally protected in the 1940s, after which populations recovered somewhat, but declines apparently followed later in the 20th century as a consequence of mosquito control programs and alteration of breeding and feeding habitats.
These highly gregarious waders feed by sweeping the bill side to side, often sifting through mud as they walk through shallow water. Their diet includes small fishes and aquatic invetebrates, as well as some plant material. They are found in coastal marshes, lagoons, mudflats, and mangrove keys, foraging in both salt and fresh water. Flocks typically include fewer than half a dozen individuals, but they are often associated with other wading birds as well. In courtship, male and female spoonbills first interact aggressively, then perch close together, presenting sticks to each other and crossing and clasping bills. They typically nest in mangroves or other trees and shrubs 5 to 15 feet above ground or water, but sometimes nest on the ground. The nest, a bulky platform of sticks with a deep twig- and leaf-lined center, is built mainly by the female with material brought by the male, Clutch size is 2 to 3 eggs, (range 1 to 5). The white eggs are spotted with brown. Eggs are incubated (by both sexes) for 22 to 24 days. Both parents feed the young. Young may leave the nest after 5 to 6 weeks and are capable of strong flight at around 7 to 8 weeks. .Roseate Spoonbils are mostly silent, but make a soft froglike croak when disturbed.
(Matheu and del Hoyo 1992; Kaufman 1996; AOU 1998; Dunne 2006)
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
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.
Marismas Nacionales-San Blas Mangroves Habitat
This taxon is found in the Marismas Nacionales-San Blas mangroves ecoregion contains the most extensive block of mangrove ecosystem along the Pacific coastal zone of Mexico, comprising around 2000 square kilometres. Mangroves in Nayarit are among the most productive systems of northwest Mexico. These mangroves and their associated wetlands also serve as one of the most important winter habitat for birds in the Pacific coastal zone, by serving about eighty percent of the Pacific migratory shore bird populations.
Although the mangroves grow on flat terrain, the seven rivers that feed the mangroves descend from mountains, which belong to the physiographic province of the Sierra Madre Occidental. The climate varies from temperate-dry to sub-humid in the summer, when the region receives most of its rainfall (more than 1000 millimetres /year).
Red Mangrove (Rhizophora mangle), Black Mangrove (Avicennia germinans), Buttonwood (Conocarpus erectus) and White Mangrove trees (Laguncularia racemosa) occur in this ecoregion. In the northern part of the ecoregion near Teacapán the Black Mangrove tree is dominant; however, in the southern part nearer Agua Brava, White Mangrove dominates. Herbaceous vegetation is rare, but other species that can be found in association with mangrove trees are: Ciruelillo (Phyllanthus elsiae), Guiana-chestnut (Pachira aquatica), and Pond Apple (Annona glabra).
There are are a number of reptiles present, which including a important population of Morelet's Crocodile (Crocodylus moreletii) and American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) in the freshwater marshes associated with tropical Cohune Palm (Attalea cohune) forest. Also present in this ecoregion are reptiles such as the Green Iguana (Iguana iguana), Mexican Beaded Lizard (Heloderma horridum) and Yellow Bellied Slider (Trachemys scripta). Four species of endangered sea turtle use the coast of Nayarit for nesting sites including Leatherback Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), Olive Ridley Turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea), Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) and Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas).
A number of mammals are found in the ecoregion, including the Puma (Puma concolor), Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis), Jaguar (Panthera onca), Southern Pygmy Mouse (Baiomys musculus), Saussure's Shrew (Sorex saussurei). In addition many bat taxa are found in the ecoregion, including fruit eating species such as the Pygmy Fruit-eating Bat (Artibeus phaeotis); Aztec Fruit-eating Bat (Artibeus aztecus) and Toltec Fruit-eating Bat (Artibeus toltecus); there are also bat representatives from the genus myotis, such as the Long-legged Myotis (Myotis volans) and the Cinnamon Myotis (M. fortidens).
There are more than 252 species of birds, 40 percent of which are migratory, including 12 migratory ducks and approximately 36 endemic birds, including the Bumblebee Hummingbird, (Atthis heloisa) and the Mexican Woodnymph (Thalurania ridgwayi). Bojórquez considers the mangroves of Nayarit and Sinaloa among the areas of highest concentration of migratory birds. This ecoregion also serves as wintering habitat and as refuge from surrounding habitats during harsh climatic conditions for many species, especially birds; this sheltering effect further elevates the conservation value of this habitat.
Some of the many representative avifauna are Black-bellied Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis), Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias), Roseate Spoonbill (Ajaia ajaja), Snowy Egret (Egretta thula), sanderling (Calidris alba), American Kestrel (Falco sparverius), Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors), Mexican Jacana (Jacana spinosa), Elegant Trogan (Trogan elegans), Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra), White-tailed Hawk (Buteo albicaudatus), Merlin (Falco columbarius), Plain-capped Starthroat (Heliomaster constantii), Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris) and Wood Stork (Mycteria americana).
Moist Pacific Coast Mangroves Habitat
This taxon occurs in the Moist Pacific Coast mangroves, an ecoregion along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica with a considerable number of embayments that provide shelter from wind and waves, thus favouring mangrove establishment. Tidal fluctuations also directly influence the mangrove ecosystem health in this zone. The Moist Pacific Coast mangroves ecoregion has a mean tidal amplitude of three and one half metres,
Many of the streams and rivers, which help create this mangrove ecoregion, flow down from the Talamanca Mountain Range. Because of the resulting high mountain sediment loading, coral reefs are sparse along the Pacific coastal zone of Central America, and thus reef zones are chiefly found offshore near islands. In this region, coral reefs are associated with the mangroves at the Isla del Caño Biological Reserve, seventeen kilometres from the mainland coast near the Térraba-Sierpe Mangrove Reserve. The Térraba-Sierpe, found at the mouths of the Térraba and Sierpe Rivers, is considered a wetland of international importance.
Because of high moisture availability, the salinity gradient is more moderate than in the more northern ecoregion such as the Southern dry Pacific Coast ecoregion. Resulting mangrove vegetation is mixed with that of marshland species such as Dragonsblood Tree (Pterocarpus officinalis), Campnosperma panamensis, Guinea Bactris (Bactris guineensis), and is adjacent to Yolillo Palm (Raphia taedigera) swamp forest, which provides shelter for White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and Mantled Howler Monkeys (Alouatta palliata). Mangrove tree and shrub taxa include Red Mangrove (Rhizophora mangle), Mangle Caballero (R. harrisonii) R. racemosa (up to 45 metres in canopy height), Black Mangrove (Avicennia germinans) and Mangle Salado (A. bicolor), a mangrove tree restricted to the Pacific coastline of Mesoamerica.
Two endemic birds listed by IUCN as threatened in conservation status are found in the mangroves of this ecoregion, one being the Mangrove Hummingbird (Amazilia boucardi EN), whose favourite flower is the Tea Mangrove (Pelliciera rhizophorae), the sole mangrove plant pollinated by a vertebrate. Another endemic avain species to the ecoregion is the Yellow-billed Cotinga (Carpodectes antoniae EN). Other birds clearly associated with the mangrove habitat include Roseate Spoonbill (Ajaia ajaja), Gray-necked Wood Rail (Aramides cajanea), Rufous-necked Wood Rail (A. axillaris), Mangrove Black-hawk (Buteogallus anthracinus subtilis),Striated Heron (Butorides striata), Muscovy Duck (Cairina moschata), Boat-billed Heron (Cochlearius cochlearius), American White Ibis (Eudocimus albus), Amazon Kingfisher (Chloroceryle amazona), Mangrove Cuckoo (Coccyzus minor), Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia), and Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus VU) among other avian taxa.
Mammals although not as numerous as birds, include species such as the Lowland Paca (Agouti paca), Mantled Howler Monkey (Alouatta palliata), White-throated Capuchin (Cebus capucinus), Silky Anteater (Cyclopes didactylus), Central American Otter (Lontra longicaudis annectens), White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus), feeds on leaves within A. bicolor and L. racemosa forests. Two raccoons: Northern Raccoon (Procyon lotor) and Crab-eating Raccoon (P. cancrivorus) can be found, both on the ground and in the canopy consuming crabs and mollusks. The Mexican Collared Anteater (Tamandua mexicana) is also found in the Moist Pacific Coast mangroves.
There are a number of amphibians in the ecoregion, including the anuran taxa: Almirante Robber Frog (Craugastor talamancae); Chiriqui Glass Frog (Cochranella pulverata); Forrer's Grass Frog (Lithobates forreri), who is found along the Pacific versant, and is at the southern limit of its range in this ecoregion. Example salamanders found in the ecoregion are the Colombian Worm Salamander (Oedipina parvipes) and the Gamboa Worm Salamander (Oedipina complex), a lowland organism that is found in the northern end of its range in the ecoregion. Reptiles including the Common Basilisk Lizard (Basiliscus basiliscus), Boa Constrictor (Boa constrictor), American Crocodile (Crocodilus acutus), Spectacled Caiman (Caiman crocodilus), Black Spiny-tailed Iguana (Ctenosaura similis) and Common Green Iguana (Iguana iguana) thrive in this mangrove ecoregion.
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.