Roseate Spoonbills

This has been a terrific winter for Roseate Spoonbills at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Spoonbills are fairly common at the refuge, but this winter there seems to be a greater number than in previous years. That may have more to do with the proximity of food sources to common viewing spots rather than to an influx of the population. Either way, it has been a great deal of fun watching them and getting some great images. Click an image to view larger.

Roseate Spoonbill Feeding

Spoonbills, or Rosies, get their primary color from their diet, just like Flamingos do. They swing their spoon-shaped bill back and forth in the water and pick up crustaceans, insects, frogs, newts and small fish.

Roseate Spoonbill Preparing to Land

Their color varies depending on age. The older birds are much more colorful than younger birds, especially during breeding season.

Roseate Spoonbill

Adult spoonbills, or spoonies, have very few predators as adults with their primary predator being the American Alligator. Ornithologists have recorded the oldest known spoonie in the wild at 16 years old.

Graceful Flyer

Spoonies are a favorite of avian photographers because of their vivid colors. They are also one of my favorites which is why I have enjoyed the numerous opportunities I’ve had to work with them.

Early Morning Spoonbill

Rosies can be quite beautiful in the early morning light. But you have to be quick as they usually leave their roosts shortly after sunrise to begin foraging.

The Three Spoonies

Case in point is the image above. I arrived before dawn at a small pond where rosies have been known to roost overnight. When I arrived, there were about a dozen rosies quietly waiting for the sun to rise. As the light improved for better images, the rosies began flying off to forage one by one. I was hoping that the sun would clear the mangroves quickly enough that I could capture these three in some beautiful golden light without any shadows. Unfortunately, the rosies had other ideas as they were all gone just moments after I took a few images of this trio…and before the sun removed the shadows from their faces and heads.

Roseate Spoonbill

Still, I got some great shots later in the day. The spoonies look great when contrasted against a deep blue sky.

Roseate Spoonbill

I really liked how the light passed through the wings on the image above. A landing show with the wings forward is a photographer’s dream shot. I haven’t been successful in getting that image, but I did like the feather details on this landing shot.

Roseate Spoonbill

You can see the rich colors of their breeding plumage coming in nicely. Breeding season is just around the corner.

Roseate Spoonbill


  • Raees Uzhunnan

    February 12, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    Wow , spoonbill reflection is a winner Michael

    • Michael

      February 12, 2012 at 5:48 pm

      Thanks, Raees!