The Royal Spoonbill is a large long-necked white water bird with a long, flat, spoon-shaped black bill, and black facial skin and legs. It is most often seen sweeping its distinctive bill from side to side as it walks through shallow water. In the breeding season, both male and female develop a crest of feathers sweeping back from the head, a bright pink patch of skin on the forehead, and yellow skin above the eyes. Their white plumage also develops a buff wash across the breast during the breeding season.
Royal Spoonbills are found across northern and eastern Australia from the Kimberly in Western Australia across to Queensland and down through New South Wales, Victoria, and Southeast South Australia. They can also be found in New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and eastern Indonesia, although they are rarely seen in Tasmania or south Western Australia. They inhabit both fresh and saltwater wetlands, as well as shallow flooded parks and paddocks.
Spoonbills feed on small fish, crustaceans, insects, and freshwater snails. Their bill, with vibration detectors called "papillae," allows them to feed in murky water. As the Spoonbill sweeps its open bill through the water, the papillae sense movement, causing the bill to snap shut. They can also use their bills to detect spiders or insects on wet grasslands.
Spoonbills form monogamous pairs during the breeding season, which extends from October to March. They usually nest in loose colonies among other water birds, although in Centennial Park they have been recorded nesting as solitary pairs. The nests are large, bowl-shaped stick structures built in trees over or near water. Both parents share incubation for about 25 days, and they may also share in caring for the young birds in the nest and for several weeks after they leave. They are sensitive to disturbance during breeding but may have developed tolerance to people in urban environments like Centennial Park.
In the Park:
Royal Spoonbills can be seen feeding in shallow water around the edges of the ponds throughout the park. While they may resemble White Ibises or Egrets from a distance, their pure white plumage, distinctive feeding behavior, and upright stance distinguish them. They are often seen alongside White Ibises and can be found roosting in trees around the ponds or on the islands. Some records indicate nesting in Paperbarks near the Lily Pond.