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Living Sanibel: Roseate spoonbill commonly found at ‘Ding’

By Staff | Jan 13, 2016

Roseate spoonbill. PHOTO BY SARA LOPEZ

Without question, the roseate spoonbill is the poster child of Sanibel Island bird lovers. A difficult bird to add to anyone’s life list, the roseate is commonly found in the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge year round and thus attracts thousands of avid birders annually to the islands. It is probably the most photographed bird on Sanibel. Because of its pink coloration, the roseate is sometimes mistakenly confused with the flamingo. Flocks of spoonbills can also be found in Everglades National Park and the Myakka River State Park.

Unmistakable for its spatulate bill, bald head, and flamboyant pink coloration, the roseate was nearly extirpated from Florida during the 1800s. Not only was it taken by the plume hunters, it was also killed for its meat, and its rookeries were repeatedly raided for eggs. Now recovering, the numbers of these lovely birds are still only a fraction of what they were when Ponce de Leon first landed in Florida.

The roseate’s feeding style is unique, similar to wood storks. It swishes its spatula-shaped bill back and forth through the soft, exposed muck of a tidal flat. When it comes across a shrimp or crustacean, it claps its bill together, eating the prey, then quickly resumes feeding. It also has a unique behavior called “skypointing” where it extends its bill and neck upward toward other spoonbills flying overhead.

The roseate is monogamous and tends to nest with other wading birds. Its nests are sometimes raided by raccoons and other predators. It needs extensive tidal flats to survive, and it suffers from polluted waters, as well as long-term habitat loss.

This is an excerpt from Living Sanibel – A Nature Guide to Sanibel & Captiva Islands by Charles Sobczak. The book is available at all the Island bookstores, Baileys, Jerry’s and your favorite online sites.