[order] CICONIIFORMES | [family] Threskiornithidae | [latin] Platalea regia | [authority] Gould, 1838 | [UK] Royal Spoonbill | [FR] Spatule royale | [DE] Konigsloffler | [ES] Espatula Real | [NL] Koningslepelaar
Platelea or Spoonbills are a group of large, long-legged wading birds in the family Threskiornithidae, which also includes the Ibises. Spoonbills are monogamous, but, so far as is known, only for one season at a time. Most species nest in trees or reed-beds, often with ibises or herons. The male gathers nesting material?mostly sticks and reeds, sometimes taken from an old nest?the female weaves it into a large, shallow bowl or platform which varies in its shape and structural integrity according to species. The female lays a clutch of about 3 smooth, oval, white eggs and both parents incubate; chicks hatch one at a time rather than all together. The newly hatched young are blind and cannot care for themselves immediately; both parents feed them by partial regurgitation. Chicks’ bills are short and straight, and only gain the characteristic spoonbill shape as they mature. Their feeding continues for a few weeks longer after the family leaves the nest. The primary cause of brood failure appears not to be predation but starvation. African Spoonbills (Platalea alba) standing and feeding in captivity.All have large, flat, spatulate bills and feed by wading through shallow water, sweeping the partly opened bill from side to side. The moment any small aquatic creature touches the inside of the bill?an insect, crustacean, or tiny fish?it is snapped shut. Spoonbills generally prefer fresh water to salt but are found in both environments. They need to feed many hours each day.
The Royal Spoonbill is a large white waterbird with black, spatulate (spoon-shaped) bill, facial skin, legs and feet. During the breeding season, it has a distinctive nuchal (back of head or nape of neck) crest, which can be up to 20 cm long in male birds (usually shorter in females). The crest can be erected during mating displays to reveal bright pink skin underneath. Breeding adults also have a creamy-yellow wash across the lower neck and upper breast and a strip of bright pink skin along the edge of the underwings which is obvious when the bird opens its wings. The facial skin is black with a yellow patch above the eye and a red patch in the middle of the forehead, in front of the crest feathers. Females are slightly smaller with shorter legs and bill. Out of breeding season, the nuchal crests are reduced, the underwing is not bright pink and the plumage is less brilliant, often appearing ‘dirty’. Young birds are similar to non-breeding adults without a crest or coloured face patches, and are slightly smaler with a shorter, smoother bill. The Royal Spoonbill is most often seen wading in shallow waters, sweeping its submerged bill back and forth in a wide arc to find food.
Listen to the sound of Royal Spoonbill
Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto
Australasia : widespread. The Royal Spoonbill is found throughout eastern and northern mainland Australia from the Kimberley region of Western Australia across the Top End and through Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, to south-eastern South Australia. It is only a rare visitor to Tasmania and it is not found south-west of Broome, Western Australia through to the Spencer Gulf, South Australia or in central Australia. It is also found in New Zealand, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and on some south-western Pacific islands.
The Royal Spoonbill is found in shallow freshwater and saltwater wetlands, intertidal mud flats and wet grasslands. Both permanent and temporary inland waters are used when available in the arid zone. Will also use artificial wetlands such as sewage lagoons, saltfields, dams and reservoirs.
The Royal Spoonbill forms monogamous pairs for the duration of the breeding season and nest in colonies alongside many other waterbirds, including Yellow-billed Spoonbills, ibises, herons and cormorants. A solid bowl-shaped nest is built of sticks and twigs lined with leaves and water plants, and is usually placed in the crown of a tree over water or among high reeds and rushes. Nest sites may be reused year after year. Both sexes incubate the eggs and feed the young. When threatened at the nest, the adult birds will raise all their feathers to appear much larger and crouch down low over the nest. The young are often fed by both parents for several weeks after fledging and young birds will forage alongside their parents for some time before the family group disperses.
The Royal Spoonbill feeds mainly on fish in freshwater, and on shrimps in tidal flats; it will also eat other crustaceans and aquatic insects. The structure of its bill limits it to feeding in water that is less than 40 cm deep over sand, mud or clay, where it can sweep the water with its bill. It uses several methods to catch food: slow sweeping from side to side with an open bill, rapid sweeping while walking fast or even running through the water, as well as dragging, probing or grabbing. The spatulate bill has many vibration detectors, called papillae, on the inside of the spoon, which means the bird can feel for prey items even in murky water and can feed by day or night. Once food is caught, it lifts its bill up and lets the items slide down its throat. It will bash shrimps against hard objects to remove their shells.
copyright: Nick Talbot
This species has a very large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be fluctuating, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size may be moderately small to large, but it is not believed to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Most coastal populations in Australia appear to be sedentary; irregular movements inland influenced by water conditions. Movements between Australia and S New Guinea recorded frequently. In New Zealand, disperses after breeding. Colonization of New Zealand and records of vagrants on several Pacific islands indicate occurrence of some long distance movements; one immature recovered over 1400 km from breeding site.