Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

If a camera lens were capable of having a sweet tooth, it would undoubtedly have one for the Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja). Easily one of Florida’s most iconic birds and akin to a walking stick of cotton candy, these medium-sized waterbirds are easy to spot probing marshes and swamps with their light to bright pink plumes and long spoon like bills. They make for the most sublime pictures, reminiscent of a Dr. Suess character (Horton Hears a Who? anyone?) Seeing one in person is undeniably a treat for onlookers and wildlife photographers alike. If you’ve never indulged before, let me take this opportunity to encourage you to do so—it’s thrilling and calorie-free!

Of course, there are many things that make Roseate Spoonbills special aside from their precocious appearance. For starters, how they manage to have pink feathers in the first place. There is so much to love and learn about this pretty pink waterbird and I’m here to be your adventure guide. Ready, set—let’s fly!

Meet the Roseate Spoonbill

  • Scientific Name: Platalea ajaja
  • Order: Pelecaniformes
  • Family: Threskiornithidae (spoonbills and ibises)
  • Conservation Status: Low concern
  • Size & Wingspan: Approximately 2.5 feet tall; 4.5-ft wingspan
  • Lifespan: 10-15 years, depending on habitat


Fun fact: There are only six species of spoonbills in the world and the Roseate Spoonbill is the only one with pink plumage. Mid-sized wading birds, they’re eye-catching, sticking out significantly among their heron and ibis peers. Like cotton candy on a stick, their dazzling pink plumage, oblong shaped bodies, and distinctive spoon-shaped bills are a dead giveaway. In flight, these striking aviators fly with their long necks stretched out. When perched, they tuck their necks in, curled resting in an unmistakable ‘S’ shape.

When foraging, if they hear a flock of Roseate Spoonbills flying above them, the feeding spoonbills stop and posture themselves with their beaks pointing upwards at the sky, a display known as “sky gazing”.

In terms of size, the Roseate Spoonbill stands at around two and a half feet tall with a wingspan of approximately four feet and a weight of 2.3 pounds. For comparison, it’s larger than a Snowy Egret but smaller than a Wood Stork or Great Blue Heron.

Adult Roseate Spoonbills

Adults have a football-shaped body that’s mostly a pale bubblegum pink, with brighter pink plumes on their shoulders, wings, bellies, and bottoms. Their necks are long and white with light yellowish-green heads that bald with age—they’re also notably small compared to the flat yellowish-pink shovel-like bill that’s attached.

They have piercing red beady eyes that are accentuated by their stunning pink feathers and orange-colored tails. Their legs are relatively long and ruby red with dark purple to gray webbed feet. They have four toes on each foot, with three pointing forward and one placed strategically behind that helps with balance and support when maneuvering in muddy waters.

Juvenile Roseate Spoonbills

Juvenile Roseate Spoonbills are similar to their older counterparts, but their bodies are a pale pink all over, lacking the patches of bright pink you’ll see in mature birds. They also sport a fully feathered head until around the age of three when their adult plumage has completely grown in.



As one of six species of spoonbills, the Roseate Spoonbill is the only one that’s native to the Americas. They live, forage, and breed in coastal areas of South Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Central, and South America—specifically in places with shallow salt, fresh, or brackish waters that house an abundant supply of small fish, crustaceans, and aquatic insects.

These include mangroves, cypress swamps, marshes, willows, bays, wetlands, lagoons, mudflats, tidal pools, and even roadside ditches. Encompassing all these particular habitats and then some, the Florida Everglades is naturally the perfect place for the Roseate Spoonbill to call home.


Where Can I See a Roseate Spoonbill in Florida?

Roseate spoonbill pictures make a nice addition to any Instagram feed, and if you’re wanting to catch a glimpse of one yourself, you’ll need to know where to start. If you’re in the Sunshine State, start by planning a visit to the Florida Everglades and look for clusters of bubblegum pink birds. Roseate Spoonbills tend to be with herons, ibises, and egrets, foraging with their bills under the shallow waters of cypress swamps, mangroves, and marshes. Because they hold their bodies horizontally when hunting for food, they’re easier to spot at a distance than other wading birds.

If you can’t catch a Roseate Spoonbill fishing, try looking at trees resting along the waterline. If you don’t see them visibly perched, you’ll almost certainly hear them roosting in their colonies—their low-pitched grunting can’t be missed.

Behavior and Feeding

One of the coolest things about the Roseate Spoonbill is how they get their illustrious bright pink feathers. Would you believe that it comes from the food they eat? Well, I’m here to tell you that it most certainly does. These blush birds eat a steady diet of small fish, crustaceans, aquatic insects, and mollusks like shrimp, prawns, crabs, slugs, crayfish, snails, water beetles, killifish, and minnows—all of which contain carotenoids, the pigment elements responsible for giving plants and marine life their unique colors. Neat, right? Another fun fact about this gregarious bird? They sleep standing up on just one foot, usually with their heads slipped under their shoulder feathers.

Limited to water no deeper than five inches, the Roseate Spoonbill forages during the day or night by probing shallow fresh, salt, and brackish waters with their extraordinary spoon beak. When feeding, these spoonbills are tactical fishers, relying mostly on touch and visual cues to get the job done.

Bodies parallel to the water, they wade slowly with their jaws lightly opened and beak submerged, detecting their food by intently sweeping and probing their bills back and forth to capture them in their iconic spoon. They also use their webbed talons to help stir up the marine life below, giving them a better chance to find something during their sweep.

Once they’ve made contact with a fish or crustacean, Roseate Spoonbills quickly shut their beaks, raise them ever-so-slightly, rapidly yank their heads backward to fling prey to the rear of their throats, and then swiftly swallow them whole. It’s M’m! M’m! Good!

Nesting and Displays

In Florida, Roseate Spoonbills breed in winter, but are also year-round residents. They’re social creatures and it’s not uncommon to find them roosting in small, medium, or large-sized colonies with other waterbirds like herons, ibises, and egrets, flying with deep swooshing wingbeats from the water back up to their nest. Typically, they build their humble abodes 5’ to 16’ above shaded water or land, in and around dense mangroves, willow trees, thickets, and tree shrubs.

A Roseate Spoonbill nest is a fairly good size, about 22 inches wide and 4.5 inches deep. Its base is bulky and consists mainly of small branches and twigs. The lining is made of softer plant materials like moss, grass, leaves, and bark.

Roseate Spoonbill Nesting and Courting Rituals

Like so many other birds I photograph and write about, Roseate Spoonbill nests are constructed almost entirely by the female with building materials harvested by the male. Of course, there are certain rituals that take place before construction can begin!

Male Roseate Spoonbills first find their chosen nesting site and then begin their emphatic displays for female attention. He starts by bouncing his head up and down and vigorously shaking the love twigs until he’s caught the eye of some lucky lady. At first, their interactions are aggressive, often biting each other’s bills, or showing dominance with their wings stretched out overhead. However, these displays are short-lived—once the two decide to become one, they perch together closely, and the love twig ceremony can commence! A comical and endearing display of shaking sticks for female approval leads to clasping and crossing bills. Eventually this elaborate ritual results in a beautifully constructed nest.

Unlike Anhingas and many other South Florida waterbirds, Roseate Spoonbills are not monogamous animals and pairs usually only stay a couple for the duration of a single breeding season. I guess that’s why these birds have such good twig shaking moves—lots of practice, ha!

Eggs, Parenthood, and Maturation

Breeding Roseate Spoonbills have one brood a season that normally consists of one to five eggs a clutch. They’re a pale whitish green color and covered all over with brown speckles. As for their size, they’re pretty small, measuring at 2.2 inches to 2.8 inches long and nearly two inches in width.

Incubating Roseate Spoonbill eggs takes just 22 days before hatching, and both mom and dad help keep them toasty. Around 35 to 42 days later, the young birds ready to take flight. Both parents feed their offspring until about eight weeks of age, but these birds won’t be fully matured until age three or four.

Life Cycle

The average life span of a Roseate Spoonbill in the wild is 10 years, in captivity there have been reports of them living to be as old as 15. As with most animals, there are some setbacks before reaching adulthood, namely natural predators of both the eggs and young chicks. Alligators, raccoons, and coyotes are quick to make a snack out of these rosy wonder birds. As sad as it is to see, I remind myself that it’s simply the cycle of life in the great outdoors. Sigh… 

Roseate Spoonbill Photography in South Florida

I believe firmly in experiences over possessions. If you ever find yourself in South Florida or if you’re a resident looking for something different and exciting to do outdoors other than going to the beach, you’ve got to go to the Everglades. Host to more than 350 known animal species and nine unique habitats, there is always something to see and explore. I find that spending time in the wild allows me to appreciate life that much more and getting lost in the feeling of wonderment never gets old.

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