African Spoonbill

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Common Name: African Spoonbill
Scientific Name: Platalea alba

Size: 29 ½ - 35 ½ inches (75-90cm)

Habitat: Africa; widespread resident across Africa and Madagascar. The species inhabits large, shallow inland waters such as lakes and rivers, seasonal and permanent pans, marshes, flood plains, sewage works, reservoirs and artificial ponds, less often occurring at coastal lagoons, salt-pans, creeks and estuaries.

Status: Least Concern. Global population: 11,000 - 110,000. Population is hard to gauge due to the nomadic nature of this species. In Madagascar the species is seriously threatened by the destruction of breeding colonies at Lake Kinkony, Lake Bemamba, Lake Ihotry and Lake Alaotra. It is also threatened by the drainage of wetlands for human uses in parts of Africa.

Protected by the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA)

Diet: Fish, mollusks, crayfish, amphibians and water beetles. They feed by wading through shallow water and sweeping their partly-opened bill from side to side. The moment any small aquatic creature such as a frog, small fish, or mollusk etc touches the inside of the bill - which has a sensitive inner surface - it is snapped shut and the prey trapped inside. The prey item is then usually tossed into the back of the throat with a distinctive flick of the neck and head.

Nesting: Immature birds lack the red face and have a yellow bill. It nests in colonies in favored nesting sites such as secluded lakes, river oxbows and islands of vegetation. It does not usually share colonies with storks or herons. The nest is a flat oval platform of sticks and reeds situated over water on partly submerged trees, in bushes or reeds, on the ground on rocky islets or on rocky ledges. Three to five spotted red, brown or blue eggs are laid and incubated by both parents for 21-29 days. The young fledge after 20-30 days.

Spoonbills aren't born with the distinctive bill of the adult. At birth the beak is short and looks like any other species. It gradually lengthens during development achieving the spoon shape shortly before fledging. Until this point the young birds more closely resemble the ibises to which the species is closely related.

Cool Facts: The migratory patterns of this species are in response to local rainfall rather than seasonal movements. The breeding season varies throughout the range, and is also variable from year to year, being suspended in sites when the rains do not occur. The species breeds during the dry season from West Africa to eastern Sudan, in the rains (or sometimes in the dry season) in East and central Africa, and in winter or early spring in southern Africa.

This spoonbill is usually a shy and alert bird. It is usually found singly, but can also be encountered in pairs or in groups. It is usually silent, except for an occasional grunt when alarmed.

Found in Songbird ReMix Shorebirds Volume I

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