Roseate Spoonbill

(Ajaia ajaia)
Espatula Rosada

From the family of the Threskiornithidae (ibises and spoonbills),
a family of 33 species.

I asked Bubba about the spoonbills genera and he explained, "There are three genera of spoonbill: the Platibis in Australia; the Platalea of the Old World; and the Ajaia of the New World. Ambergris Caye and its collections of Bird Islands are in the New World." Bubba is great for info like that, but I wanted to sneak up quiet and unnoticed to Bird Island, so Bubba stayed at home. There are so many islands in the back bay that it becomes confusing as to which one you're visiting. To add to the confusion some are known by as many as three different names. Most bird watching tours given by the local guides are visiting Rosario Caye, aka Guano Caye.

It's home for a few ibis, spoonbills and frigate birds, but has the most frequent visitation. Bird Island is almost six miles more to the north and falls within the boundaries of the proposed Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve. I took the boat through the river and cruised up the back to the northern point of the island. I had heard rumors from the rangers that the spoonbills were nesting there, and it's early spring in Central America.

Spoonbills are found worldwide in warm tropical regions and when swamps and marshes in which they breed dry up, they may go thousands of miles in search of suitable habitat. The rains have filled the flats in the back of the island with some regularity and over a period of years it's become a big food source. I can only believe this must be the attraction for these birds to chose Bird Island as a nesting spot.

Spoonbills find their food by touch more than sight; they walk in the shallows with their heads down and their long peculiar looking duck bill sifting the bottom in search of clams or shrimp. Bubba said, "Morphologically, they are closely related to flamingoes who are also pink and have specialized bills used to eat crustaceans from the bottom of shallow waters. When mating, the male Roseate Spoonbill will offer presents of nesting material to the female in courtship; she builds the nest."

Looking into a nest should be done carefully and is almost never done without scaring the hell out of mama. Eggs are a wonderful diet for so many predators; she can only believe you're looking for lunch. Nothing should be touched and bending a branch for a view is done with care not to break the branch. One or the other of the parents is always watching the nest.

They fly using slow powerful downbeats to lift the large body with a rhythm of flap, flap, flap, glide . . . flap, flap, flap, glide . . . A flock of five or six is a thrill to watch. I hope they like this place and stay.

Birds of Ambergris Caye

This page, and all contents, are Copyright © 1996 Elbert Greer