Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Sponnbill by Nancy Camel
© Nancy Camel
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Roseate Spoonbills, which are also called "flame bird" or "pink curlews," are almost incredible birds. Their pink and white general color, highlighted by areas of vivid blood red on the breast, wings, and lower belly, their long legs, and their spoon-shaped bill, which is over six inches long, make a flock of these birds the most spectacular sight in our marshes. As recently as the 1940s, the Roseate Spoonbill was considered rare in Louisiana, and any day an ornithologist saw one here registered in memory as a special day indeed. Now the species has made such a strong comeback in Cameron and Vermilion parishes that it is probably as numerous there as it ever was in the past, even before plume hunting decimated the population. Two large concentrations found between Pecan Island and White Lake in March 1973 were estimated to total between 1,400 and 1,600 birds. The observer, John T. Lynch, thought spoonbills were preparing to nest there; but our only present breeding sites known for certain are an island in Sabine Lake and the Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge, where the flame birds share a rookery with Olivaceous Cormorants, American Anhingas, and various species of herons. There, in well-built nests of sticks lined with dead leaves and bark, they lay three dull white eggs streaked with brown.
Oddly, though the Louisiana colonies are the northernmost for the species and though spoonbills in Texas are to a large extent migratory, our populations do not vacate the southwestern parishes in winter. On the 1972 Christmas Bird Count, the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge total of 252 birds exceeded the figure of each of the several Texas areas reporting the species. The sedentary tendencies of Louisiana spoonbills are rather dangerous. During the ice storms of early 1973, at least 100 perished.
Records of the Roseate Spoonbill outside our two southwesternmost parishes are as yet few. Occurrence at Marsh Island, in Iberia Parish, and on the Isle Dernieres, in Terrebonne Parish, may be regular and, having been noted in the proper season, may even have involved nesting birds. But other records have a more vagrant quality. They have included since 1955 sightings in the following parishes: Calcasieu (near Lake Charles), St. Charles (Bonnet Carre' Spillway), and East Baton Rouge (Walker). But the most unexpected observation of all, and the one farthest out of range, was made at Catahoula Lake on September 23, 1968, when Leslie Glasgow and Richard K. Yancey saw a flock of 20. --George H. Lowery, Jr., 1974, Louisiana Birds

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