The Royal Spoonbill is a large waterbird with a very distinctively shaped bill. It has a long black bill with a wide flat “spoon” at the end. The black of the bill extends onto the face to behind the eye. There are rich yellow marks over the eyes and a red spot on the forehead. The rest of the bird is white with long black legs.
Juvenile birds have black tips to the wing feathers, but this is replaced with white feathers after the first moult. In breeding the bird has flowing white plumes on the back of the head and a buff wash on the breast. In flight they hold their neck and bill extended, and in small parties they form ‘V’ formations.
When feeding the bird wades through water and sweeps its bill from side to side through the water. The bill is held slightly open and is very sensitive to touch. Any small creature that touches the bill triggers the bill to snap shut. The bird eats small fish, crustaceans and insects. This sensitive bill enables the bird to feed in muddy water. The main habitats for the spoonbill are inland and coastal shallow waters, freshwater wetlands, coastal lagoons and flooded pastures.
Breeding usually takes place from October to March. They build a large shallow dished stick nest lined with leaves and plants. The nest is placed in the tops of trees in or near water and usually in loose colonies, often with other water birds. They lay 2–3 speckled white eggs which are incubated for about 25 days. The distinctive feeding motion of the spoonbill can be seen at the edges of the ponds in the Parklands.