Roseate Spoonbill, Platatea ajaja, Espátula Rosada (Spanish)
A cacophonous chorus accosted me before I even reached the mixed wading bird rookery. Upon entry, immediately parent Roseate Spoonbills captured my interest with their stick nest and three chicks. Definitely a spoon full.
How lucky I felt to walk this boardwalk above an alligator-filled lagoon while hundreds of nesting birds loudly communicated their love songs, territorial rights, food needs, and housekeeping duties in guano-dappled trees.(Puts a new meaning in caca-phony.) But I also learned these Wood Storks, Great, Cattle, and Snowy Egrets, Tricolored and Little Blue Herons, and Roseate Spoonbills were safer they chose this rookery too. Alligators prevented predator invasion of eggs and chicks by opossums, cats, and raccoons. Plus spoonbills usually feed, roost, and nest with other wading birds exemplifying safety in numbers.
HEAD BANGING AND BODY RAMS
During breeding season the male bobs his head and neck up and down like a jack-in-the-box to attract a mate. The pair also slam into each other bodies. When mating occurs, I guess that would be “spoon bred.” Also the male seems to threaten other males during breeding season by head nods and body rams too.
AT THE NEST
Generally the female lays three eggs with two days in-between each egg. Both parents incubate and feed the chicks. Whenever a parent arrives with food, all the chicks act like medusa heads with their head nods to beg. Each parent regurgitates their last meal for their chicks. Even when the immature spoonies can fly, they still beg by head bobbing. I wonder if that feeding method is a tea-spoon for the young and a table-spoon for the older chicks? Spoon fed anyone?
I watched as the larger male repeatedly brought nest material but occasionally the female would too. Housekeeping continues even after the eggs hatch. In this case, the entire family seems to help in positioning the latest stick addition.
Nestlings stretch and flap their wings, preen, sleep, feed, and maneuver around the nest. That chick with its wings up in the wind reminds me of Breeze Featherspoon. By the way, doesn’t the big-bottomed chick remind you of a Dodo bird?
FLIGHT AT SIX WEEKS OF AGE
At about three weeks, the chicks gain leg strength and balance to walk out onto branches near the nest and are called branchlings. They branch out from their nest, so to speak.
At six weeks, spoonbill parents use a unique method to encourage their now adult-sized newbies to fly. It’s like the dangling carrot method. Adults tempt the branchlings to chase them as far as they can to be fed. If the chicks don’t fly, the parents land closer for feeding. They continue to increase the distances until the young are weaned.
I think the head bobs of these immatures in the photo below were also part of the weaning flight because the branchlings finally flew from their familiar branch up to their parents after several days.
Speaking of flight, Roseate Spoonbills exhibit stronger and faster flight with that four foot wingspan than some other wading birds. I’m amazed to see the wing bones in flight.
I would be remiss in this column if I didn’t mention how Roseate Spoonbills faced extinction due to the ladies hat and fan trade in the late 1800s. Spoonbill wings fashioned into ladies’ fans actually lost the pink color. Although spoonbills weren’t the primary species desired, plume hunters killed at least five million wading birds a year with the price of one ounce of feathers equivalent to an ounce of gold. With different legislation enacted and the creation of National Audubon Society, the protected wading birds began their recovery.
But Roseate Spoonbills serve more than a beautiful comeback story. As indicator species, their appearance in wetlands can relate to a healthy ecosystem.
MAKE YOUR APPEARANCE IN NATURE TO IMPROVE YOUR HEALTH AND WELL-BEING
Link to Part 1:
Photographed in the Yucatan, and in Florida at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, and the rookery at St. Augustine Alligator Farm.
DISCLAIMER: References do not agree on details about these species.
Dr. Jerry Lorenz, Dir. of Research, Audubon Florida, personal communication
Sal a Pajarear Yucatan, Birds & Reserves of the Yucatan Peninsula, A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America, Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior
Russell, J. K. 1978. Effects of interspecific dominance among egrets commensally following Roseate Spoonbills. Auk no. 95:608-610.
Cherie Pittillo, “nature inspired,” photographer and author, explores nature everywhere she goes. She’s identified 56 bird species in her Merida, Yucatan backyard view. Her monthly column features anecdotes about birding in Merida, Yucatan and also wildlife beyond the Yucatan.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org All rights reserved, ©Cherie Pittillo
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