The Roseate Spoonbill is one of Florida’s most beautiful birds. These social flock birds are often mistaken for flamingos because of their bright pink plumage but when seen up close, they are actually quite different. Their long, spoon-shaped bill is very distinct and they are more closely related to ibises. Like the flamingo, however, their beautiful pink and red coloration is caused by the red algae they ingest. Roseate Spoonbills are only found along the coasts of the Southeast in the U.S., including southern Florida.
Roseate Spoonbills live in marshes, swamps, rivers, and ponds because their bills are shaped specifically for feeding in water. In order to scoop up shrimp, crayfish, insects, amphibians, and small fish, the Roseate Spoonbill partially submerges its bill and swings its head back and forth until it catches something. In Florida, Roseate Spoonbills like to nest in dense red and black mangroves. Both the mother and father take turns incubating the eggs and feeding the chicks once they are hatched. Although chicks leave the nest at around eight weeks , young Roseate Spoonbills don’t reach maturity until they are three years old, when the brilliant pink feathers they are known for begin to replace their soft pink and gray baby feathers.
Roseate Spoonbills in Florida can be found along the southern coast, from the Keys to Tampa, with a few in the northeastern area of Florida. There are numerous places throughout Florida where they can be observed. These birds can be seen in hundreds of breeding pairs in the Florida Bay area on Sandy Key, Tern Key, and Joe Key from November through March. They can also be spotted at the Everglades, the Blue Heron Water Reclamation Facility, and Myakka River State Park. The Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island is one of the best places in Florida to see Roseate Spoonbills. Cars can be driven down the trail and stopped at any time so visitors can get close to the beautiful mangroves and observe many different bird species. Roseate Spoonbills are most often spotted in the early morning or late afternoon at Ding Darling.
Unfortunately, the beautiful Roseate Spoonbills that now abundantly inhabit Florida had a rough history. During the late 1800s, they were hunted down and killed for their pink plumage, which was then used to make ladies’ fans, hats, and feather boas. Their feathers were in such high demand that by the 1930s, Florida’s Roseate Spoonbill population had dropped to just thirty to forty breeding pairs, confined mostly to Florida Bay. Fortunately, the birds were given full legal protection and collecting their feathers was outlawed. Today in Florida, they are thriving with over a thousand nesting pairs.
Florida is home to a wide variety of wildlife and one of the most beautiful among them is the Roseate Spoonbill. While they were once hunted and killed for their beauty, they are now more often enjoyed through observation in the wild or at parks and reserves. They are a perfect example of the variety of beauty that Florida offers and the importance of protecting rather than exploiting nature.