Bird of the Week: Spoonbill

As the name suggests, this bird's lifestyle is all about its beak.

By Celine Longden-Naufal
Published 23 Aug 2019, 09:44 BST
The impressive and elegant spoonbill in flight over marshland.
The impressive and elegant spoonbill in flight over marshland.
Photograph by Richard Brooks, RSPB Images

What looks and sounds like a fictional creature from a children’s book, spoonbills (Platalea leucorodia) are large white birds who are known for their astonishing spatula-like black bills and yellow plumage on their chest. In flight, their neck and long dark legs are extended. 

With a preference for shallow wetlands, spoonbills have highly sensitive bills. They feed by gracefully sweeping their slightly open bills from side to side until they feel something touch the inside, where they then quickly clamp shut. It cannot be said that their call is as graceful as their feeding method; whilst spoonbills are usually silent birds, they are also known for their grunting and trumpet like calls. 

A spoonbill in summer plumage, Norfolk.
Photograph by Richard Brooks, RSPB Images

Spoonbills can be seen all year round on coastal sites in the south-west of England and in East Anglia. However, this wasn’t always the case. In the later part of the 17thcentury, they were extirpated from the United Kingdom for over 300 years, possibly from hunting and land drainage. 

It wasn’t until 2000 that the elusive spoonbill began to breed again, followed by a colony being discovered in Norfolk in 2010. Nevertheless, spoonbills are currently of European conservation concern. This is as they are rare breeding birds who continue to face threats such as habitat destruction and pollution. To see Spoonbills, visit RSPB Burton Mere WetlandsFairburn Ings and Havergate Island.


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