Bird Photography Challenge #45: Royal Spoonbill

A large white wader with a distinctive black bill, the Royal Spoonbill (Platalea regia) is vulnerable in Victoria, so it was a treat to spot several in the wild.  This odd looking but stately waterbird is the subject of our #45 Bird Photography Challenge.

What does it look like?

IMG_4239-2The Royal Spoonbill gets its name from its unusual straight bill with a spoon-shaped end.  It has a white plumage, with a black bill and facial skin, and tall black legs and feet.  It is quite a large wading bird, measuring 75 to 80 cm.

During mating season both males and females display a white crest at the back of the head, up to 20 cm long in males.  Breeding adults also have a yellow wash across the lower neck and a patch of bright pink skin along the edge of the under wing, which is obvious when you see the bird in flight.

If you are lucky enough to see the bird up close, you will notice yellow patches above the eyes and a red dot in the middle of the forehead just on the edge of the black facial skin.

Did you know?

During breeding season, the female Royal Spoonbill selects a display branch near a nesting site and initially responds aggressively to any approaching male by flapping her wings, opening her bill and pecking towards the male. The male tries to nibble at her bill and when he succeeds the pair has been formed. The pair raises their nuptial plumes into a fan if other birds come near and the intruder retreats.

How does it behave?

IMG_4239The Royal Spoonbill is a carnivore, with a diet consisting mainly of fish and crustaceans, but also insects. It uses its oddly shaped bill to capture its prey in the water, by wading along and sweeping its bill back and forth in a wide arc just under the surface. Vibration detectors in the bill help locate prey in murky water. It then eats its catch by throwing its head back and swallowing it.

The Spoonbill nests in colonies alongside many other water birds. A solid bowl-shaped nest made of sticks and twigs and lined with leaves is generally built in the crown of a tree over water and among high reeds. Two to four eggs are laid and both parents incubate them. In colonies, at least one bird is always on guard duty and gives a warning call if danger is seen.

Where is it found?

The Royal Spoonbill is found throughout mainland eastern and northern Australia in shallow freshwater and saltwater wetlands, inter tidal mud flats and grasslands. It is one of six species of spoonbills worldwide.  The images in the gallery were taken along the salt marsh of Swan Bay, near Queenscliff, and at the Lake Borrie Wetlands.

8 thoughts on “Bird Photography Challenge #45: Royal Spoonbill

  1. Really interesting Chris. Do you go out looking for specific species to photograph, or just what you find when you are out and about?

    • Hi Peter – Sometimes I do look for specific birds and I research different species because it helps to get good shots if you know a bit about a bird’s habits, but more often than not I am an opportunist when I go out ‘birding’ with my big lens. When I have enough decent shots of a species (which often takes several outings) I put a post together. Sometimes I feel like I am running out of birds, but then I will come across a few new ones that I haven’t seen or been able to photograph before! Thanks for your interest.

  2. Wonderful post! Love this bird! This one was on my bucket-list for Australia and we finally spotted some outside Cairns – so exciting. Then of course the bucket list expanded to include the roseate spoonbill of Florida…

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