Priority Bird
Conservation status Very common in parts of the southeast until the 1860s, spoonbills were virtually eliminated from the United States as a side-effect of the destruction of wader colonies by plume hunters. Began to re-colonize Texas and Florida early in 20th century. Still uncommon and local, vulnerable to degradation of feeding and nesting habitats.
Family Ibises and Spoonbills
Habitat Coastal marshes, lagoons, mudflats, mangrove keys. Forages in shallow water with muddy bottom, in both salt and fresh water, including tidal ponds, coastal lagoons, extensive inland marshes. Nests in colonies, in Florida mainly in red mangroves, farther west in willows or on coastal islands in low scrub, including mesquite and salt cedar.
Gorgeous at a distance and bizarre up close is the Roseate Spoonbill. Locally common in coastal Florida, Texas, and southwest Louisiana, they are usually in small flocks, often associating with other waders. Spoonbills feed in shallow waters, walking forward slowly while they swing their heads from side to side, sifting the muck with their wide flat bills.

Feeding Behavior

Forages by wading in shallow muddy water, sweeping bill from side to side with mandibles slightly open, detecting prey by feel. Sometimes picks up items that it has found by sight.


2-3, sometimes 1-5. White, spotted with brown. Incubation is by both sexes, 22-24 days. Young: Both parents feed young. Young clamber about near nest, may leave nest after 5-6 weeks, capable of strong flight at roughly 7-8 weeks.


Both parents feed young. Young clamber about near nest, may leave nest after 5-6 weeks, capable of strong flight at roughly 7-8 weeks.


Small fish, aquatic invertebrates. Diet is mostly small fish such as minnows and killifish, also shrimp, crayfish, crabs, aquatic insects (especially beetles), mollusks, slugs. Eats some plant material, including roots and stems of sedges.


Breeds mainly during winter in Florida, during spring in Texas. Nests in colonies. At beginning of breeding season, entire flock may suddenly fly up, for no apparent reason, and circle the area. In courtship, male and female first interact aggressively, later perch close together, present sticks to each other, cross and clasp bills. Nest site is in mangroves, tree, shrub, usually 5-15' above ground or water, sometimes on ground. Nest (built mostly by female, with material brought by male) a bulky platform of sticks, with deep hollow in center lined with twigs, leaves.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Download Our Bird Guide App


Present all year in coastal Texas but more common in summer, with some migrating to Mexico in winter. There is thought to be some regular seasonal movement between Florida and Cuba. After breeding season, a few (mostly immatures) may stray far north and well inland. Rarely strays into southwest from western Mexico.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon

See a fully interactive migration map for this species on the Bird Migration Explorer.

Learn more

Songs and Calls

Low croaks and clucking sounds.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.