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Roseate spoonbill

Roseate spoonbill
in the Pantanal, Brazil
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Pelecaniformes
Family: Threskiornithidae
Genus: Platalea
Species: P. ajaja
Binomial name
Platalea ajaja
Linnaeus, 1758

Ajaja ajaja (L.), 1758

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 [2][3] and on central Florida's Atlantic coast[4] Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge adjoined with NASA Kennedy Space Center.


  • Taxonomy 1
  • Description 2
  • Behavior 3
    • Breeding 3.1
  • Conservation and threats 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


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.[5]


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).[6] 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.[7] Adults have a bare greenish head ("golden buff" when breeding[8]) 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.[9] 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.[10]


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.


Adult with two juveniles on a nest

The roseate spoonbill nests in shrubs or trees, often mangroves, laying two to five eggs, which are whitish with brown markings.[10] Immature birds have white, feathered heads, and the pink of the plumage is paler. The bill is yellowish or pinkish.

Conservation and threats

Information about predation on adults is lacking. Nestlings are sometimes killed by turkey vultures, bald eagles, raccoons and fire ants.[3] In 2006, a 16-year-old banded bird was discovered, making it the oldest wild individual.[11]


  1. ^  
  2. ^ "Roseate Spoonbill". Waterbird Conservation. National Audubon Society. Archived from the original on 2008-10-24. Retrieved 2009-07-23. 
  3. ^ a b Dumas, Jeannette V. 2000. )Platalea ajajaRoseate Spoonbill (, The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Retrieved 2009-11-12. Subscription required
  4. ^ Graham, Jr., Frank. "A Wing and a Prayer". Audubon Magazine. Retrieved August 2001. 
  5. ^ 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.  
  6. ^ [2] (2011).
  7. ^ Hancock, Kushlan & Kahl (1992). Storks, Ibises, and Spoonbills of the World. Academic Press.  
  8. ^ Howell, SNG; Webb, S (1995). A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America. Oxford University Press. pp. 147–8.  
  9. ^ 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).
  10. ^ a b Howell, SNG; Webb, S (1995). A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America. Oxford University Press. pp. 147–8.  
  11. ^ "Researchers: Oldest Wild Spoonbill Found - Care2 News Network". 2006-05-29. Retrieved 2012-02-20. 

External links

  • Field guide on Flickr
  • Roseate spoonbill videos, photos, and sounds at the Internet Bird Collection
  • Roseate spoonbill photo gallery at VIREO (Drexel University)
  • Roseate spoonbill species account at NeotropicalBirds (Cornell University)
  • Species account – Cornell Lab of Ornithology
  • Platalea ajajaInteractive range map of at IUCN Red List maps
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