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Roseate spoonbill (Ajaia ajaja).JPG
Roseate spoonbill
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Pelecaniformes
Family: Threskiornithidae
Subfamily: Plataleinae
Genus: Platalea
Linnaeus, 1758

See text.

Spoonbills are a genus, Platalea, of large, long-legged wading birds. The spoonbills have a global distribution, being found on every continent except Antarctica. The genus name Platalea derives from Latin and means "broad", referring to the distinctive shape of the bill. [1] Six species are recognised, which although usually placed in a single genus have sometimes been split into three genera.


All spoonbills have large, flat, spatulate bills and feed by wading through shallow water, sweeping the partly opened bill from side to side. The moment any small aquatic creature touches the inside of the billan insect, crustacean, or tiny fish it is snapped shut. Spoonbills generally prefer fresh water to salt but are found in both environments. They need to feed many hours each day.


They have traditionally been thought to form one of two subfamilies, Plataleinae, in the family Threskiornithidae, which also includes the ibises (Threskiornithinae). Molecular studies, including a 2013 study, have suggested instead that they form a clade within the family with several cosmopolitan ibis genera, separate from another clade of New World ibises. [2]

A 2010 study of mitochondrial DNA of the spoonbills by Chesser and colleagues found that the roseate and yellow-billed spoonbills were each other's closest relative, and the two were descended from an early offshoot from the ancestors of the other four spoonbill species. They felt the genetic evidence meant it was equally valid to consider all six to be classified within the genus Platalea or alternatively for two of the species to be placed in monotypic genera named as Platibis and Ajaja. However, as the six species were so similar morphologically, keeping them within the one genus made more sense. [3]


Spoonbills are most easily distinguished from ibises in the shape of their bill, which is long and flat and wider at the end. The nostrils are located near the base of the bill so that the bird can breathe while the bill is submerged in water. The eyes are positioned to provide spoonbills with binocular vision, although, when foraging, tactile senses are important too. Like ibises, spoonbills have bare patches of skin around the bill and eyes. [4]


Spoonbills are monogamous, but, so far as is known, only for one season at a time. Most species nest in trees or reed beds, often with ibises or herons. The male gathers nesting materialmostly sticks and reeds, sometimes taken from an old nestthe female weaves it into a large, shallow bowl or platform which varies in its shape and structural integrity according to species.

The female lays a clutch of about three smooth, oval, white eggs and both parents incubate; chicks hatch one at a time rather than all together. The newly hatched young are blind and cannot care for themselves immediately; both parents feed them by partial regurgitation. Chicks' bills are short and straight, and only gain the characteristic spoonbill shape as they mature. Their feeding continues for a few weeks longer after the family leaves the nest. The primary cause of brood failure appears not to be predation but starvation.

Species and distribution

The six species of spoonbill are distributed over much of the world.

Species of Platalea
Common and binomial namesImageDescriptionRange
Eurasian spoonbill
(Platalea leucorodia)
Eurasian Spoonbill-2.jpg Adults and juveniles are largely white with black outer wing-tips and dark bills and legs. Breeds in reed beds, usually without other species.This is the most widespread species, which occurs in the northeast of Africa and much of Europe and Asia across to Japan.
Black-faced spoonbill
(Platalea minor)
Black faced spoonbill at Niigata.JPG Closely related to Eurasian Spoonbills.Found in Taiwan, China, Korea and Japan.
African spoonbill
(Platalea alba)
Platalea-alba-Lake-Nakuru.JPG A large white species similar to Eurasian spoonbill, from which it can be distinguished by its pink face and usually paler bill. Its food includes insects and other small creatures, and it nests in trees, marshes or rocks.Breeds in Africa and Madagascar
Royal spoonbill
(Platalea regia)
Royal Spoonbill mouth open.jpg A large white spoonbill with a black face.Most common in south-east Australia, but regularly found in smaller numbers on other parts of the continent when temporary wetlands form; in New Zealand, particularly the South Island, and sometimes as stragglers in New Guinea, Indonesia, and the Pacific Islands.
Yellow-billed spoonbill
(Platalea flavipes)
Yellow-billed Spoonbill at Perth Zoo.jpg A white spoonbill with a yellow colored bill.Southeast Australia.
Roseate spoonbill
(Platalea ajaja)
Roseate Spoonbill - Myakka River State Park.jpg Adults are large with pink feathers. South America, the Caribbean, and the Southeastern United States

Related Research Articles

Pelecaniformes Order of birds

The Pelecaniformes are an order of medium-sized and large waterbirds found worldwide. As traditionally—but erroneously—defined, they encompass all birds that have feet with all four toes webbed. Hence, they were formerly also known by such names as totipalmates or steganopodes. Most have a bare throat patch, and the nostrils have evolved into dysfunctional slits, forcing them to breathe through their mouths. They also have a pectinate nail on their longest toe. This is shaped like a comb and is used to brush out and separate their feathers. They feed on fish, squid, or similar marine life. Nesting is colonial, but individual birds are monogamous. The young are altricial, hatching from the egg helpless and naked in most. They lack a brood patch.

Tropicbird Family of birds

Tropicbirds are a family, Phaethontidae, of tropical pelagic seabirds. They are the sole living representatives of the order Phaethontiformes. For many years they were considered part of the Pelecaniformes, but genetics indicates they are most closely related to the Eurypygiformes. There are three species in one genus, Phaethon. The scientific names are derived from Ancient Greek phaethon, "sun". They have predominantly white plumage with elongated tail feathers and small feeble legs and feet.

Threskiornithidae Family of birds

The family Threskiornithidae includes 34 species of large wading birds. The family has been traditionally classified into two subfamilies, the ibises and the spoonbills; however recent genetic studies are casting doubt on the arrangement, and revealing the spoonbills to be nested within the old world ibises, and the new world ibises as an early offshoot.

Australasian wren Family of birds

The Australasian wrens are a family, Maluridae, of small, insectivorous passerine birds endemic to Australia and New Guinea. While commonly known as wrens, they are unrelated to the true wrens. The family comprises 29 species in six genera.

Old World babbler Family of birds

The Old World babblers or Timaliidae are a family of mostly Old World passerine birds. They are rather diverse in size and coloration, but are characterised by soft fluffy plumage. These are birds of tropical areas, with the greatest variety in Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. The timaliids are one of two unrelated groups of birds known as babblers, the other being the Australasian babblers of the family Pomatostomidae.

Cisticolidae Family of birds

The family Cisticolidae is a group of about 160 warblers, small passerine birds found mainly in warmer southern regions of the Old World. They were formerly included within the Old World warbler family Sylviidae.

<i>Picathartes</i> Genus of birds

The picathartes, rockfowl, or bald crows are a small genus of two passerine bird species forming the family Picathartidae found in the rain-forests of tropical west and central Africa. They have unfeathered heads, and feed on insects and invertebrates picked from damp rocky areas. Both species are totally non-migratory, being dependent on a specialised rocky jungle habitat. Both species are listed as vulnerable to extinction on the IUCN Red List.

Ploceidae Family of small passerine birds

Ploceidae is a family of small passerine birds, many of which are called weavers, weaverbirds, weaver finches and bishops. These names come from the nests of intricately woven vegetation created by birds in this family. In most recent classifications, Ploceidae is a clade, which excludes some birds that have historically been placed in the family, such as some of the sparrows, but which includes the monotypic subfamily Amblyospizinae. The family is believed to have originated in the mid-Miocene. All birds of the Ploceidae are native to the Old World, most in Africa south of the Sahara, though a few live in tropical areas of Asia. A few species have been introduced outside their native range.

Eurasian spoonbill Species of bird

The Eurasian spoonbill, or common spoonbill, is a wading bird of the ibis and spoonbill family Threskiornithidae. The genus name Platalea is from Latin and means "broad", referring to the distinctive shape of the bill, and leucorodia is from Ancient Greek leukerodios "spoonbill", itself derived from leukos, "white" and erodios "heron". In England it was traditionally known as the "shovelard", a name later used for the Northern Shoveller.

African spoonbill Species of bird

The African spoonbill is a long-legged wading bird of the ibis and spoonbill family Threskiornithidae. The species is widespread across Africa and Madagascar, including Botswana, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.

Roseate spoonbill Species of bird

The roseate spoonbill is a gregarious wading bird of the ibis and spoonbill family, Threskiornithidae. It is a resident breeder in South America mostly east of the Andes, and in coastal regions of the Caribbean, Central America, Mexico, the Gulf Coast of the United States, and from central Florida's Atlantic coast at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, adjoined with NASA Kennedy Space Center at least as far north as South Carolina's Myrtle Beach.

Black-faced spoonbill Species of bird

The black-faced spoonbill is a species of wading bird in the ibis and spoonbill family Threskiornithidae, found in eastern Asia. This species has the most restricted distribution of the six spoonbill species, and it is the only one regarded as endangered. Spoonbills are large water birds with dorso-ventrally flattened, spatulate bills. These birds use a tactile method of feeding, wading in the water and sweeping their beaks from side-to-side to detect prey. Confined to the coastal areas of eastern Asia, it seems that it was once common throughout its area of distribution. It currently breeds only on a few small rocky islands off the west coast of North Korea, with four wintering sites at Macau, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Vietnam, as well as other places where they have been observed in migration. Wintering also occurs in Jeju, South Korea, Kyushu and Okinawa, Japan, and the Red River delta in Vietnam. More recently, sightings of black-faced spoonbill birds were noted in Thailand, the Philippines, and additional sites in China. They were internationally classified as an endangered species by the IUCN in 2000. Declines in their population are predicted in the future, mainly due to the amount of deforestation, pollution, and other man-made industries.

<i>Geronticus</i> Genus of birds

The small bird genus Geronticus belongs to the ibis subfamily (Threskiornithinae). Its name is derived from the Greek gérontos in reference to the bald head of these dark-plumaged birds; in English they are called bald ibises.

Royal spoonbill Species of bird

The royal spoonbill also known as the black-billed spoonbill, occurs in intertidal flats and shallows of fresh and saltwater wetlands in Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands. It has also been recorded as a vagrant in New Caledonia. The royal spoonbill lives in wetlands and feeds on crustaceans, fish and small insects by sweeping its bill from side to side. It always flies with its head extended. Widespread throughout its large range, the royal spoonbill is evaluated as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Yellow-billed spoonbill Species of bird

The yellow-billed spoonbill is a gregarious wading bird of the ibis and spoonbill family, Threskiornithidae. It is native to Australia, and is a vagrant to New Zealand, Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island.

Green ibis Species of bird

The green ibis, also known as the Cayenne ibis, is a wading bird in the ibis family Threskiornithidae. It is the only member of the genus Mesembrinibis.

Southern bald ibis Species of bird

The southern bald ibis is a large bird found in open grassland or semi-desert in the mountains of southern Africa. Taxonomically, it is most closely related to its counterpart in the northern regions of Africa, the waldrapp. As a species, it has a very restricted homerange, limited to the southern tips of South Africa in highland and mountainous regions.

<i>Eudocimus</i> Genus of birds

Eudocimus is a genus of ibises, wading birds of the family Threskiornithidae. They occur in the warmer parts of the New World with representatives from the southern United States south through Central America, the West Indies, and South America.

Plumbeous ibis Species of bird

The plumbeous ibisTheristicus caerulescens, also formerly called the blue ibis, is a large distinctive ibis species endemic to parts of central South America.

Tityridae Family of birds

Tityridae is family of suboscine passerine birds found in forest and woodland in the Neotropics. The 45 species in this family were formerly spread over the families Tyrannidae, Pipridae and Cotingidae. As yet, no widely accepted common name exists for the family, although tityras and allies and tityras, mourners and allies have been used. They are small to medium-sized birds. Under current classification, the family ranges in size from the buff-throated purpletuft, at 9.5 cm (3.7 in) and 10 grams, to the masked tityra, at up to 24 cm (9.5 in) and 88 grams. Most have relatively short tails and large heads.


  1. Jobling, James A (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p.  309. ISBN   978-1-4081-2501-4.
  2. Ramirez, J.L.; Miyaki, C.Y.; Del Lama, S.N. (2013). "Molecular phylogeny of Threskiornithidae (Aves: Pelecaniformes) based on nuclear and mitochondrial DNA" (PDF). Genetics and Molecular Research. 12 (3): 2740–2750. doi: 10.4238/2013.July.30.11 . PMID   23979898.
  3. Chesser, R.Terry; Yeung, Carol K.L.; Yao, Cheng-Te; Tians, Xiu-Hua; Li Shou-Hsien (2010). "Molecular phylogeny of the spoonbills (Aves: Threskiornithidae) based on mitochondrial DNA". Zootaxa (2603): 53–60. ISSN   1175-5326.
  4. Matheu, E.; del Hoyo, J. (2017). del Hoyo, Josep; Elliott, Andrew; Sargatal, Jordi; Christie, David A.; de Juana, Eduardo (eds.). "Ibises, Spoonbills (Threskiornithidae)" . Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Barcelona, Spain: Lynx Edicions. Retrieved 5 December 2017.