Jerry Lorenz, Florida’s leading expert on the Roseate Spoonbill, kept hearing about a new nesting ground in Central Florida named for the nearby town of Stick Marsh. So he decided to see for himself what was happening on the string of small inland islands where dozens of the state’s most elegant bird had set up living quarters.
“They told me, ‘We think there’s probably 25 or 30 nests.’ But I sat there on the shoreline and counted,” said Lorenz, state research director for the Audubon Society in Florida and professor at Florida International University. “There were at least 150 nests there.”
A surprising and encouraging trend is under way with the Spoonbills, a striking specimen with deep pink and red coloring and a frame that harkens back to its dinosaur origins. As changes in water levels and habitat play out in Florida, this is one bird whose numbers and range have steadily expanded.
The Spoonbill is thriving at least partly as a result of the climate trends that are working against many species. The rising water and temperatures have forced the Spoonbill to move north, expand its reach and find new sources of food. Lorenz believes that the population of one of Florida’s emblematic birds has never been higher in modern times. Across, Florida, he estimates their numbers at 3,500 to 4,000; though not a huge number, it’s many times what it was at the turn of the century when the Spoonbills feathers were so popular hunters almost wiped them out entirely.
As water levels have risen in coastal nesting places, the Spoonbills have looked elsewhere to find the unique environment they need. That in turn has helped them to spread their reach beyond heavily developed South Florida and the Everglades that had been their primary Florida breeding grounds for decades.
They’ve found inland nesting locations such as Stick Marsh and Merritt Island in Central Florida. They’ve moved into other southeastern states, including Georgia, Louisiana, Texas and the Carolinas. As they’ve scouted new locations, Spoonbill have showed up as far away as Minnesota and New England, though they aren’t expected to put down roots that far afield.