July 2011 Bird Photo of the Month

Roseate Spoonbill Preening © Linda L. Leonard
Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja)
West County Wastewater Treatment Facility, Nikon 300S, 300mm lens, ISO 400, 1/2500 @ f/4 with evaluative meting of -1/3 stop

The glow from early morning sunrays highlights the Roseate Spoonbill’s gorgeous shades of crimson. Carotenoid pigments in the spoonbill’s food are credited with tinting the feathers. Linda Leonard photographed (Nikon 300S camera, 300 mm lens) this adult at the Indian River County Water Reclamation Plant on 8th street, wetlands open to the public.

From a distance and in flight, silhouette and pink plumage recall flamingoes, but the spoonbill is smaller with longer, straight bill and no black on spread wings.
Like all birds, spoonbills maintain feather quality with a daily regimen, starting by stretching their head and bill up to reach the highest position possible on their lower neck. Contrary to popular belief, birds do not oil their feathers; they simply spread around something akin to conditioner. This substance keeps the feathers pliable, not waterproof. Waterproofing (and insulation) involves aligning the feathers so the barbs and barbules on each one interlace, forming an intact plumage shield over the skin. When this shield is compromised, say from a wound or petroleum/oil contamination, they are vulnerable to hypothermia, lack buoyancy, and become too sodden for flight, leading to death.

Laws enacted in 1900 (Lacey Act) and 1918 (Migratory Bird Treaty Act) ended the plume trade that nearly wiped out this and other species. Threats from draining wetlands continue.  The needs of birds are not considered by water managers, their mandates are to provide water for humans and prevent floods, with results that tend to contradict the natural wet and dry seasons on which birds depend. The spoonbills’ nesting attempt in the Everglades failed this year.  There had been no reports of Spoonbills nesting on Pelican Island since 1858, until this year. They also established a new rookery on an island (safety from terrestrial predators) near TM Goodwin WMA.

Juanita Baker
Coordinator of the Photo of the Month,
Pelican Island Audubon Society

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