Royal Spoonbill

Platalea regia

Royal Spoonbill in breeding plumage. Photo: John Spiers

Spoonbills are among the most distinctive of birds, easily recognised as they stride through shallow water swinging their spoon-shaped bills from side to side. In the breeding season the long, untidy plumes make them even more conspicuous.

Spoonbills feed by sweeping their bill from side-to-side. Photo: John Spiers

Royal spoonbills feed mainly on fish but also feed on crustaceans, aquatic insects, molluscs and some plant material taken up during foraging. They forage by day and night, in shallow water, often alone or in dispersed groups. The mode of foraging is distinctive; wading while sweeping the bill from side to side in smooth arcs. Prey is caught in the tip of the bill, the head thrown back tossing it into the gullet, where it is then swallowed.

Royal Spoonbill with the spoon shaped bill clearly visible. Photo: John Spiers



Breeding occurs from September to November depending on local water conditions. Nesting is in loose colonies up to 50 pairs, or as isolated pairs. The nest is a shallow platform of sticks and twigs, lined with soft vegetation, placed in small trees usually over water. Clutch size is from 2-4. Chicks are covered in white down.

While mainly sedentary they have been recorded taking long-distance dispersal movements after breeding.


The all snowy-white plumage and black, textured spoon-shaped bill make this species unmistakeable. The sexes are alike except that the male is slightly larger with a longer bill, and legs. A lemon-yellow patch above each eye forms an “eye-brow”. A small red-purple patch is sometimes apparent at the “hairline” in the central forehead. Long white plumes develop from the nape of birds in breeding plumage, often untidily blown about in the wind. Immatures do not develop plumes or show the yellow eye-patches.

Where to find it

Royal Spoonbills are found in all manner of wetlands. Freshwater swamps, flooded pastures, sewage works, salt pans, reservoirs and lakes, as well as sheltered marine habitats such as estuaries, mudflats and mangroves. Losses of freshwater habitat by drainage, increased salinity and recreational activities have been offset to a certain extent by the creation of artificial wetlands.