A Perfect Day for Spoonbills

  Almost every person I pass along the path after an afternoon of birding in Central Florida has the same question: “Are there any spoonbills out today?”

    I have good news to share. Dozens of these glorious birds are not only visible across the marshes, but they’re at the height of breeding when their colors turn deep, rich hues of reddish pink.

     Spoonbills are in the midst of an expansion in their range as changing climates and water levels are pushing the birds north throughout the southeastern U.S (Two prior posts on the trend can be found here and here.) That means swelling numbers of people are getting to see and quickly falling for these exotic birds. Their appeal is enormous, a species beyond beautiful and with gawky forms that echo their dinosaur ancestry. 

         We’ve been chasing spoonbills for years, usually catching just a glimpse of one flying overhead — or from distance while peering at their rookeries from afar. And yet as they’ve spread out to more and more locations, it’s gotten easier to find them – and occasionally get a close-up look.

     This is one of those days when the conditions are perfect for spoonbills at the Orlando Wetlands, a half hour east of Orlando. The birds are settling into their nests not far from a boardwalk winding through the marshes. They are constantly coming and going. Best of all, a powerful wind is blowing from the west that slows the birds down in mid-flight for a good look – not to mention photographs — of their acrobatic takeoff and landings. Here’s a glimpse of the scene:

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          The spoonbill gets its name from its huge bill that ends in a round dish it uses to sift through the water for crustaceans and other invertebrates. The pink comes from pigments in the food it consumes. Spoonbills are especially sensitive to the water levels in the marshes, because they gather that food with a sweeping motion the birds use to search through the shallow water. 

     As the water levels have risen in the Florida Bay at the base of Florida where the birds used to congregate in huge numbers in the U.S., the spoonbills began to move out in search of better nesting and foraging grounds. The birds have proven especially adaptable, which is what’s helped them to become far more commonplace. One glance and people can’t help but fall for them. 

     Here’s a gallery of our favorite spoonbill photos from over the years. A note on the photography: I’ve recently switched to a new mirrorless camera by Nikon, the Z-9, which is capable of taking more than a hundred photos a second — and in the process catching birds in motion as the spoonbills were on this day. The setting was especially nice with the rich green foliage up against the bird’s plumage. Other photos here were taken on sunnier days with bright blue skies in the background — demonstrating once again that whatever else is going on, the light decides so much about the photos you’ll take home.

3 responses to “A Perfect Day for Spoonbills”

  1. Anders
    Your photographs are absolutely brilliant. It is so much easier to understand birds because of the exceptional quality of your pictures.

  2. Rochelle Ward Avatar

    I was already a fan of spoonbills but these photographs are swoon-worthy. Interesting information as well. Well done, as usual.

    1. Anders Gyllenhaal Avatar
      Anders Gyllenhaal

      Thanks so much. We had such a good time with these Spoonbills this year. A great new rookery changed everything.

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