The roseate spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) is a unique wading bird that has a long 'spatulate' or 'spoon-shaped' bill that is flattened at the tip into a broad disk shape. The bill is lined with sensitive nerve endings that help the roseate spoonbill locate and capture prey. To forage for food, the spoonbill probes the bottom of shallow wetlands and marshes and swings its bill back and forth in the water. When it detects prey (such as small fish, crustaceans and other invertebrates) it scoops up the food in its bill.
The body feathers of the mature roseate spoonbill are a coral pink color and its wings are marked with crimson. This vibrant coloration is the result of the bird's diet which includes crustaceans. Of the five other spoonbill species worldwide, only the roseate spoonbill is vibrantly colored, the other species being primarily white.
The roseate spoonbill is also known by several other common names including 'flame-bird', 'pink chicken', and 'banjo-bill'. Adult birds measure 80cm tall with a body length 71-86cm, bill length 15-18cm, mass 1.2-1.8kg, and wingspan 1.2-1.3m.
There are six species of spoonbills. Of the six species, the roseate spoonbill is the only species of spoonbill to inhabit in the New World. The most common classification of spoonbills places all six species in one genus (Platalea) but in a few cases, the roseate spoonbill is split out into its own genus (Ajaia). Spoonbills are closely related to ibises and the two groups both belong to the Family Threskiornithidae. Ibises and spoonbills have been known to hybridize.
The roseate spoonbill inhabits coastal areas (including bays, estuaries, and beaches) as well as inland wetlands (including marshes, swamps, rivers, and lakes). Roseate populations occur along the Gulf coast (Mexico, Texas to Lousiana and Florida) as well as Pacific Coast of Mexico. In the US, the spoonbill breeds along the coasts of Texas (Apr-Aug), Louisiana (Apr-Aug), and south Florida (Nov-Jun). Most populations disperse during the non-breeding season in response to local drying and flooding events. A few populations are thought to migrate but no extensive migratory data has yet been collected.