Ajaia ajaja

Physical characteristics: Roseate spoonbills are one of the most unusual looking wading birds species. They can easily be identified by the bright pink feathers on their wings and legs and their long, flattened bills. They have bare heads and red eyes. Roseate spoonbills are about 31 inches (80 centimeters) long from bill tip to tail, and they weigh about 3.3 pounds (1.5 kilograms).

Geographic range: Roseate spoonbills live in the eastern two-thirds of South America, in Central America, and along both coasts of Mexico. In the United States they breed in Texas, Louisiana, and Florida and they spread out to many places across the country after breeding.

Habitat: Roseate spoonbills usually stay near water, and they prefer to nest on islands. They breed along seacoasts, in estuaries where fresh water and salt water mix, and in mangrove swamps. They also breed inland in freshwater swamps, on islands in rivers and lakes, in marshes, and on wet prairies. They feed in shallow water near their nesting places, and also in canals, ponds, ditches, tidal pools, and wherever else they can find shallow water.

Diet: Small water creatures, including fish, insects, crayfish, and shrimp are the main foods of roseate spoonbills. They usually walk slowly and the swing their bills as they hunt for food. They also dig in the mud or chase after schools of fish.

Behavior and reproduction: Roseate spoonbills usually feed in large groups and roost together at night. At nesting time, they form large colonies and build nests of loosely woven sticks in bushes or trees. The females lay an average of three eggs, and both parents help raise the chicks.

Roseate spoonbills call with a sound made by clacking the top and bottom of its beak together. (© Lawrence E. Naylor/Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

Roseate spoonbills and people: In the 1800s it became popular among some women to use spoonbill wings as fans to cool themselves. Many spoonbills were killed for their feathers. Finally, laws were passed to stop the killing of spoonbills and other wading birds.

Conservation status: Between 1850 to 1920, the population of roseate spoonbills in the United States decreased rapidly until there were only about twenty-five nesting pairs left in the country. Since laws were passed to protect them, the birds are making a good comeback. They are still considered a Species Of Special Concern in the U.S., but they are not listed as endangered anywhere. ■



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