General Description

Body white with black legs and facial skin. Bill black and wide with a flat round tip (spoon-shaped). During the breeding season, both sexes have conspicuous white head plumes, a red forehead patch, a yellow patch above the eyes and yellow-buff colouring on the upper breast. Body up to 80 cm long. Flies with the neck, head and legs extended.


Spoonbills feed by sweeping their bill sideways through shallow water to search for crustaceans, aquatic insects and fish. When prey is caught, they lift their bill up allowing food to slide down their throat. Shells of crustaceans are removed by banging them against a hard object. Spoonbills can feed by night or day and in muddy waters due to sensory structures on the inside of their bill that detect vibrations given off by prey. During the breeding season, they form monogamous pairs and nest in colonies with other waterbirds. Their white head plumes are erected during courtship displays, revealing bright pink skin. Bowl-shaped nests made from sticks are re-used each year, usually built in the top of trees over water or amongst reeds. They are highly sensitive to disturbances while nesting; parents will fluff up their feathers when threatened to appear larger than they are.


Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand. Mainland Australia except western deserts. Irregular visitor to Tasmania.


Wetlands, wet grasslands, tidal mudflats, floodplains, estuaries, saltmarshes and mangroves.

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