Notice the smooth pale bill and white, fully feathered, fuzzy head and pale pink wings. These features are unlike the adult spoonbill whose head is bald and bill has a rough texture, thus indicating that this is a juvenile. Standing on branches within dense foliage, this youngster is likely near its birth nest, situated on a protected island with available shade. Mating and nest building begins from December to January in the St. Augustine area where Arlene Willnow photographed this Roseate Spoonbill. Within 10-15 days of building the nest, the female lays her eggs and incubates them for 22 days until hatching. The newly hatched chick has a straight bill less than an inch long. The bill starts widening and flattening at the tip by nine days to become “spatulated,” like a spoon. For two months, the juvenile depends upon both parents for feeding but will learn to swing its bill back and forth while wading through shallow water. Its wide spoonbill contains fine sensors that detect moving prey. On sensing fishes or invertebrates, the bill snaps shut with such a fast reaction time that the prey is captured. This photo, taken in March, illustrates the Spoonbill’s rapid growth from tiny chick to nearly adult size in just a few months.
Last year, at the Indian River County Spoonbill colonies on two islands near Fellsmere, between the Stickmarsh and the T.M. Goodwin Wildlife Management Area, water levels were apparently too high for spoonbills to find food easily for their young, so their nesting was delayed a month or so. With all our rain this year, this timing likely will repeat. Roseate Spoonbills also nest with pelicans, herons, egrets, and other colonial birds in other Indian River County rookeries like Pelican Island and Oslo Island in the Lagoon.
Juanita Baker, Coordinator
Florida Bird Photo of the Month
Pelican Island Audubon Society