Yellow-billed Spoonbill

Platalea flavipes

Yellow-billed Spoonbill. Photo: John Spiers.

The differences between the two species of spoonbill found in South Australia are interesting. While being of similar size and behaviour, and each possessing the spoon-shaped bill unique to their genus, subtle differences in foraging style enable the two species to partition target prey species between them. Compared to Royal Spoonbills, Yellow-bills take less fish and plant material, and more arthropods of various kinds. Also, Royals prefer marine, or near marine environments which Yellow-bills avoid, preferring small inland water bodies.

The style of foraging is similar between Royal and Yellow-billed Spoonbills except that the Yellow-billed wades more slowly and takes slower strokes and, as a result, captures smaller, slower prey. These include crustaceans such as common yabby and shrimps, arthropods such as water boatmen, freshwater snails and small fish such as mosquito fish and gudgeon, and some plant material such as medic burr.

Breeding occurs from September to January. It may nest in loose colonies but it often nests as a solitary pair. The nest is a loose platform of sticks and twigs and placed in a small tree over water, or on trampled reeds or rushes. The clutch size varies from 2 to 4 and both parents are involved in incubation and feeding. The chicks have white down.


Yellow-billed spoonbills have creamy-white plumage with black tips to the inner flight feathers. They are slightly taller and have longer wings than Royal Spoonbills, but are of similar weight. The main difference is in the bill which varies from pale yellow to buffy, and is longer and narrower than that of the Royal. A black line borders the bare, yellow to white skin of the face. The iris, legs and feet are pale yellow. Males and females are similar but the male is larger with longer bill and legs. In breeding plumage short, stiff, yellow plumes develop on the upper breast, and filamentous black plumes on the back. No plumes develop on the head. The bill develops small red crescents in front of the eyes and narrow dark bars across the base of the bill. Juveniles are like non-breeding adults but lack the narrow black border to the face and the bare skin is bluish-white.

Where to find it

Yellow Spoonbills are found in a wide variety of wetlands but rarely in marine environments. They more likely to be found in small swamps, farm dams and pools than Royal Spoonbills. In South Australia they are mainly to be found in suitable habitats in the south-eastern quadrant of the state. They disperse widely after breeding.