Bird Photography Challenge #17: Yellow-Billed Spoonbill

A distinctive and handsome wader, the Yellow-Billed Spoonbill (Platalea flavipes) is sensitive to changing water availability.  You often see pairs, but less frequently do they appear in large flocks.   So when in November after a period of heavy rainfall a large group was feeding in the Western Wetlands, near Melbourne, it was a delight to capture some good images for our #17 Bird Photography Challenge.

What does it look like?

Yellow-Billed SpoonbillThe Yellow-Billed Spoonbill is a large waterbird with a creamy white plumage.  It averages between 76 and 90cms in height and has a wingspan of about 140cms.  As its name suggests it has an unusual yellowish spatulate bill which makes it easy to identify it.  This wader has a white to pale grey face and its head feathers wrap around the eye a little.   It legs and feet are pale yellow.  Most photos in this post where taken during breeding season, when the facial skin is outlined in black, long hackles develop on its upper breast and the wings have black tips and lacy plumes.

How does it behave?

The Yellow-Billed Spoonbill feeds on aquatic insects, larvae, molluscs and crustaceans, which it finds sweeping its lightly opened bill from side to side in shallow water.  The bird walks slowly, kicking up debris and small animals from the bottom of the water, which it then senses and catches with its bill, snapping it shut. Once it has caught its prey, it lifts its bill up and lets the food items slide down its throat.

This spoonbill often breeds in colonies with other water birds such as the Royal Spoonbill, or the Ibis.  It places its nest in tree forks over water, or in among reed beds, building a shallow platform of sticks, rushes and reeds. The male collects the nest materials while the female builds and both sexes share incubation and care of the young.

When aloft, the spoonbill flies with its neck and head stretched out and its legs trailing.

Did you know?

Yellow-Billed SpoonbillBirds have developed some astounding devices for gathering food, but perhaps the strangest is the beak of the spoonbill. The spatulate bill has many vibration detectors called papillae which edge the inside of the spoon, and allows the bird to feel for prey even in murky waters.  It acts a bit like forceps.                          

Where is it found?

The Yellow-Billed Spoonbill is endemic to Australia and found across the continent in inland areas with shallow freshwater wetlands, swamps, dams and lagoons.  It is most commonly seen in the southeast and northern regions.

The images were taken at the Western Wetlands using a Canon 60D and Canon EF100-400 lens, hand-held.  Click on the first image to display the gallery in full screen.

15 thoughts on “Bird Photography Challenge #17: Yellow-Billed Spoonbill

  1. I didn’t know about the vibrators on their bill, nature is wonderful, thanks for the continual education Chris

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