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Spoonbills are a group of large, long-legged wading birds in the family Threskiornithidae, which also includes the Ibises.
African Spoonbills (Platalea alba) standing and feeding in captivity.
All have large, flat, spatulate bills and feed by wading through shallow water, sweeping the partly opened bill from side to side. The moment any small aquatic creature touches the inside of the bill—an insect, crustacean, or tiny fish—it is snapped shut. Spoonbills generally prefer fresh water to salt but are found in both environments. They need to feed many hours each day.
Spoonbills are monogamous, but, so far as is known, only for one season at a time. Most species nest in trees or reed-beds, often with ibises or herons. The male gathers nesting material—mostly sticks and reeds, sometimes taken from an old nest—the female weaves it into a large, shallow bowl or platform which varies in its shape and structural integrity according to species.
The female lays a clutch of about 3 smooth, oval, white eggs and both parents incubate; chicks hatch one at a time rather than all together. The newly hatched young are blind and cannot care for themselves immediately; both parents feed them by partial regurgitation. Chicks' bills are short and straight, and only gain the characteristic spoonbill shape as they mature. Their feeding continues for a few weeks longer after the family leaves the nest. The primary cause of brood failure appears not to be predation but starvation.
Species and distribution 
The six species of spoonbill in two genera are distributed over much of the world.
- Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia): This is the most widespread species, which occurs in the northeast of Africa and much of Europe and Asia across to Japan. Adults and juveniles are largely white with black outer wing-tips and dark bills and legs. Breeds in reed-beds, usually without other species.
- African Spoonbill (Platalea alba): Breeds in Africa and Madagascar. A large white species similar to Common Spoonbill, from which it can be distinguished by its pink face and usually paler bill. Its food includes insects and other small creatures, and it nests in trees, marshes or rocks.
- Royal Spoonbill (Platalea regia): Most common in south-east Australia, but regularly found in smaller numbers on other parts of the continent when temporary wetlands form; in New Zealand, particularly the South Island, and sometimes as stragglers in New Guinea, Indonesia, and the Pacific Islands. Its food is aquatic life, and it nests in trees, marshes or reed-beds.
- Yellow-billed Spoonbill (Platalea flavipes): Common in south-east Australia, not unusual on the remainder of the continent, vagrant to New Zealand, Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island. Its food includes aquatic life, and it nests in trees, marshes or reed-beds.
- Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja or Ajaia ajaja): Adults are largely pink. They occur in South America, the Caribbean, Texas, Louisiana, and southern Florida USA. They nest in mangrove or other trees and feed on aquatic life.
A 2010 study of mitochondrial DNA of the spoonbills by Chesser and colleagues found that the Roseate and Yellow-billed Spoonbills were each others' closest relative, and the two were descended from an early offshoot from the ancestors of the other four spoonbill species. They felt the genetic evidence meant it was equally valid to consider all six to be classified within the genus Platalea or alternatively the two placed in the monotypic genera Platibis and Ajaja respectively. However, as the six species were so similar morphologically, keeping them within the one genus made more sense.
- ^ "Gill, F. & D. Donsker (Eds). 2010. IOC World Bird Names (version 2.4). Available at http://www.worldbirdnames.org/ [Accessed 29 May 2010].
- ^ Chesser, R.Terry; Yeung, Carol K.L.; Yao, Cheng-Te; Tians, Xiu-Hua; Li Shou-Hsien (2010). "Molecular phylogeny of the spoonbills (Aves: Threskiornithidae) based on mitochondrial DNA". Zootaxa (2603): 53–60. ISSN 1175-5326.
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