Roseate Spoonbills: Kiawah River’s Colorful Residents

Roseate Spoonbills are one of Kiawah River’s most popular residents. They’re always exciting to spot—whether flying in formation overhead or feeding in the shallows of the creeks. As they become increasingly common in the sea islands and throughout our community, we wanted to share some interesting facts that you may not know about these feathered friends.

Tickled Pink
Roseate Spoonbills (Platalea ajaja) get their pink color from the shrimp and other crustaceans that make up most of their diet. These crustaceans contain carotenoids, pigments that turn the Spoonbill’s feathers pink. Only the feathers are pink—their necks and heads remain white. As they mature, their pink color will deepen, often to the point of appearing red. Adding to the spoonbill’s unique appearance are bright red eyes and the fact that as they age, they go bald, losing feathers from the top of their head.

They’ll Grow Into It
The birds aren’t born with their signature flat bill. When chicks are nine days old, their bills begin to flatten and, in another month, the bill is full size and spoon shaped. Spoonbills can then use this tool effectively to forage in shallow, muddy waters by sweeping their heads side to side and feeling for their prey with slightly open jaws. You can find them feeding in both salt and fresh water ponds and lagoons.

Birds of a Feather…
Roseate Spoonbills are social birds, often roosting with other large wading birds like egrets and ibises in the trees and bushes along bodies of water. Unlike herons and egrets, spoonbills keep their bodies more upright when foraging—so look for this horizontal posture to identify them among other large shore birds. Or look up to see them flying in formation with their long necks stretched out. Seeing them flying overhead, with their long necks stretched out in front of them and their bright pink bodies illuminated by the sun, is a beautiful sight.

Now you see them, now you don’t…now you see them again
Roseate Spoonbills are becoming more common than then have been around the sea islands of Charleston and along the southeast coast. Spoonbills were common until the 1860s, when they were almost eliminated by plume hunters who prized them for their colorful pink feathers. Preservation efforts, as well as an increase in more habitable nesting habitats (like those found at Kiawah River) have brought their population numbers up significantly.

Grab a camera and take a walk along our trails to hopefully catch a glimpse of these beautiful and unique birds. We are proud that Kiawah River is providing them an idyllic place to settle and hope to see even more in the future!