By Conservancy Intern Jill Gorges
As an intern who has been with the Conservancy Education Department for nearly a year, I’ve had the chance to observe the wildlife that surrounds us in Southwest Florida throughout the seasons. The biggest difference that I have observed in nature has been the bird activity.
Growing up in the north, I know that the birds are seeking refuge from the bitter temperatures and migrating down here to the Sunshine State. It has been fun to see a change in the avian life around Southwest Florida; however, my favorite bird encounter has not been with a migratory bird but rather with a resident bird: the roseate spoonbill.
While on a swamp walk in Big Cypress National Preserve, I got to see a wild roseate spoonbill up close. It was my third sighting of a roseate spoonbill while here in Florida but this awkward, bright pink bird never ceases to amaze me.
Just as its name implies, the roseate spoonbill has magnificent plumage coloration and a very unique bill.
The feathers of the roseate spoonbill get their brilliant coloration because of shrimp, a large composition of the spoonbill’s diet. Shrimp contains high levels of carotene which releases canthaxanthin, a chemical that produces a pink coloration. The more shrimp that a roseate spoonbill ingests, the pinker it can become.
Some local eco-journey companies have nicknamed this unique bird the “tourist bird”; the longer that roseate spoonbills stay in Florida eating shrimp in the sunshine, the pinker they become, just like many tourists in the area.
Roseate spoonbills are commonly confused with flamingos however; it is debated whether there are true wild flamingos here in Florida.
Besides their color, roseate spoonbills have a truly unique bill. This wading bird has adapted a long, flat, spatula like bill which allows them to forage easier in shallow, muddy, coastland water.
Roseate spoonbills forage by placing their slightly opened bill into the water and sweeping it from side to side. The bird then uses the sensitive hair-like sensors on its bill to find prey by touch rather than sight like many other common wading birds. This specialized bill can also sift through muck to find small crustaceans, fish and other small prey species.
So next time you are in a swamp or near shallow coastland waters, keep an eye to the sky in hopes of seeing a pink streak across the horizon. Even though they are considered resident birds, they can be hard to find. If you are lucky enough to spot one, take in all the unique beauty that this wild bird has to offer!