Spoonbill

Platalea leucorodia

80-90cm

Appearance

The long, black, spoon-shaped bill with a yellow tip makes this wetland bird easy to distinguish. It is a large bird with white plumage and long black legs. When breeding in the spring and summer, adults gain a yellow band around the breast and a bushy crest on the nape. These features are absent when not in breeding season. The wings of the juvenile bird have black ends and its legs and bill are dull pink-grey.

Habitat

Mostly a non-breeding visitor to Britain, it makes a yearly visit to England's south and east coasts. Ideal breeding environments are places with open water (both fresh and brackish) and reeds, such as coastal marshes and river valleys. Some islands are suitable too, and when not breeding, estuaries and sea inlets are common locations.

Character

When feeding, the bill moves through the water from side to side, seeking out prey. The Spoonbill is a colonial nester, and often feeds in groups too, though also does so alone. When flying, the neck is outstretched and the legs trail beyond the tail; mostly flies low, though it's capable of reaching heights. When not feeding, the bird regularly rests with its bill buried beneath its wings.

Food

Diet is mostly insects and their larvae, particularly water beetles, dragonflies and caddis flies. Small fish, amphibians, aquatic snails and some vegetation are also eaten.

Breeding

The 17th century saw the end of regular Spoonbill breeding, however a pair of the birds raised two young in 1999. Elsewhere, breeding colonies work in communities, helping each other defend from intruders and laying eggs at similar times. There are usually 3 or 4 hatchlings; both parents rear them, though they are sociable and move between colonial nests. Young can fly after about 45 days.

Population

April and May see the arrival of most of Britain's Spoonbill visitors, though there's another arrival in July and August. Up to 100 birds visit each year.

Observation Tips

The wetlands of Suffolk and north Norfolk have a fairly consistent Spoonbill visit record; spring is the best time to seek these birds.

Voice

A very quiet bird; even the community of the nesting colony inspires only an infrequent grunt or clicking of the bill.
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