The African Spoonbill

The African spoonbill is almost as iconic around wetlands and waterways as the Hammerkop. This large, all-white bird with its bright reddish pink bill, face and legs, looks like it belongs in the realm of cartoon characters. The Spoonbill is closely related to the ibisis and placed under the same family. They are tied to wetlands as their unique bill is adapted to feeding exclusively in water. 

This bird is distributed widely throughout sub-Saharan Africa and prefers open grasslands and woodland savanna. It is naturally scarce in the arid zones but has expanded its range considerably in parts of Namibia and the Northern Cape due to man-made dams. 

Spoonbills may be found singly or in flocks ranging from 3 – 30 individuals. This is often in response to feeding sites. Productive feeding sites will attract more birds and they are often in association with other waders such as flamingos, herons and storks. 

Their feeding strategy is intricately linked to water. The bill is spoon-shaped and slightly decurved and broader at the base. It immerses this bill in the water and sways it from side to side in a semi-circular arc, immediately snapping up any prey items that come into contact. The Spoonbill feeds on small fish, amphibians, including tadpoles, as well as a variety of aquatic invertebrates including crustaceans. They will sometimes probe loose mud and sediment to flush out prey. 

Nesting appears to take place throughout anytime of the year and the nest is constructed by the female. The nest is made from twigs, sticks, reeds and grass and is flat in appearance. The nest is usually placed above water as a platform and often in association with other breeding waders and waterfowl. Females lay 2-4 eggs and these take on average 26 days to incubate. The eggs are incubated by both sexes. 

African Spoonbills can be seen at most bird sanctuaries and botanical gardens where water is present. In Gauteng Province, two good sites are Rietvlei Dam and the Maryvale Bird Sanctuary. 

Class: Aves
Order: Ciconiiformes
Family: Threskiornithidae
Species: Platalea alba 
Etymology: Platalea = a Latin name meaning spoon-bill. alba = white,  in reference to its all-white 
UCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

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