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Spoonbill



Their large spoon-shaped bills easily distinguish spoonbills from all other water birds. There are two spoonbills often seen in our local wetlands and waterways. These are the Royal and the Yellow-billed. Waterbirdtracker has included both of these birds under the one description as ‘Spoonbills'. Should you site either of these species, they are recorded as a Spoonbill siting on the tracker map page. For example: if 3 Royal and 3 Yellow-billed Spoonbills were sited in a wetlands, 6 Spoonbills would be recorded.

Royal Spoonbill


Scientific name: Platalea regia
Conservation status in NSW: Not Listed
Commonwealth status: Not Listed

Description


The Royal Spoonbill is a large white waterbird with a black spoon-shaped bill. Their facial skin, legs and feet are also black in colour. During the breeding season, it has a distinctive crest on the back of head or nape of neck, which can be up to 20 cm long in male birds. Females also have a crest during breeding season but is smaller than the males. The crest can be erected during mating displays to show bright pink skin underneath. They have a yellow patch above the eye and a red patch in the middle of the forehead, in front of the crest feathers.

Sources: Mal Carnegie & John Spencer

Their large spoon-shaped bills easily distinguish spoonbills from all other water birds. Its black face, bill and legs all distinguish the Royal Spoonbill from the slightly larger Yellow-billed Spoonbill, which has a yellow bill and legs.

Distribution


The Royal Spoonbill is found throughout eastern and northern mainland Australia from the Kimberley region of Western Australia across the Top End and through Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, to south-eastern South Australia. It is only a rare visitor to Tasmania and it is not found south-west of Broome, Western Australia through to the Spencer Gulf, South Australia or in central Australia. It is also found in New Zealand, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and on some south-western Pacific islands.

Visit birdlife.org website species profile: http://www.birdlife.org.au/bird-profile/royal-spoonbill

Habitat and ecology


The Royal Spoonbill is found in shallow freshwater and saltwater wetlands, intertidal mud flats and wet grasslands. Both permanent and temporary inland waters are used when available in the more dryer arid areas. Artificial wetlands such as sewage lagoons, saltflats, dams and reservoirs are also used. They are sedentary on the coast but inland birds move with changing water conditions.

The Royal Spoonbill is most often seen wading in shallow fresh waters, using several methods to catch food: slow sweeping from side to side with an open bill, rapid sweeping while walking fast or even running through the water, as well as dragging, probing or grabbing. Feeding mainly on fish in freshwater, and on shrimps in tidal flats; it will also eat other crustaceans and aquatic insects.

Source: Mick Todd
Once food is caught, it lifts its bill up and lets the items slide down its throat. It will bash shrimps against hard objects to remove their shells. They can feed faster and on larger prey than the Yellow-billed Spoonbill, as it has a shorter, broader bill with more touch receptors inside their spoon. This also helps the Royal feed in murky water and at night.

The Royal Spoonbill forms pairs for the duration of the breeding season and nest in colonies alongside many other waterbirds, including Yellow-billed Spoonbills, ibis, herons and cormorants. Nest sites of a solid bowl-shaped nest is built of sticks in the crown of a tree and may be reused year after year. Both sexes incubate the eggs and feed the young. The young are often fed by both parents for several weeks after fledging and young birds will forage alongside their parents for some time before the family group disperses.

Source: Curtis Hayne

Threats

  • The draining of waterbodies or loss of natural flows to key wetlands sites reduces the opportunity for these large birds to find food and nesting habitats
  • Overgrazing and land clearing can reduce habitat for this species

Activities to assist this species

  • Ensure natural flows to important wetland sites are maintained
  • Protect vegetation and habitat from over grazing and land clearing
  • Control feral animals in and around key wetland site

Yellow-billed Spoonbill


Scientific name: Platalea flavipes
Conservation status in NSW: Not Listed
Commonwealth status: Not Listed

Description


The yellow bill and legs distinguish the Yellow-billed Spoonbill from the slightly smaller Royal Spoonbill. They are a large, white waterbird with spoon-shaped bill. During breeding season, the facial skin is outlined in black, the lacy outer wing plumes are tipped black and there are long hackles on its upper breast. Young birds are similar to adults but have black markings on the inner flight feathers.

Sources: Jane Humphries & Curtis Hayne

Distribution


The Yellow-billed Spoonbill is found across Australia in suitable habitat, moving or nomadic across the north and well-watered inland areas in response to water and habitat, but is less common in coastal regions. They are found in the shallows of freshwater wetlands, dams, lagoons and swamps, and sometimes in dry pastures, but rarely uses saltwater wetlands.

Visit birdlife.org website species profile: http://www.birdlife.org.au/bird-profile/yellow-billed-spoonbill

Habitat and Ecology


The Yellow-billed Spoonbill feeds on aquatic insects and their larvae, using its bill to sweep shallow waters for prey. They can use much smaller bodies of water than the related Royal Spoonbills. Like their Royal cousins the spoon bill have many vibration detectors, which means the bird can feel for prey items. Once food is caught, it lifts its’ bill up and lets the items slide down its throat. The Yellow-billed Spoonbill has less sensory papillae and a smaller spoon than the Royal Spoonbill, which means that it catches slower moving prey.

Source: Mal Carnegie
The Yellow-billed Spoonbill often nests in colonies with other water birds, such as ibises and Royal Spoonbills. It places its nest in high forks of trees over water, or in among reed beds, building a shallow, unlined platform of sticks, rushes and reeds. The male collects the nest materials while the female builds, both sexes share incubation and care of the young.

Threats


  • The draining of waterbodies or loss of natural flows to key wetlands sites reduces the opportunity for these large birds to find food and nesting habitats
  • Overgrazing and land clearing can reduce habitat for this species

Activities to assist this species


  • Ensure natural flows to important wetland sites are maintained
  • Protect vegetation and habitat from over grazing and land clearing
  • Control feral animals in and around key wetland sites

Source: Curtis Hayne

More information about waterbirds and wetlands >>

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