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Fishing Far from Home

Roseate spoonbill visits North Beach

Photographed by Jan Smith Bennett.

    This month, North Beach hosted an unexpected guest. Roseate spoonbills are usually residents of Florida and other warm, wet places in North and South America. This usually ­doesn’t include North Beach, where reader Jan Smith Bennett photographed one.
    Many different kinds of spoonbills — whose name describes their most distinctive feature — live throughout the world, but roseate spoonbills are the only ones native to the United States. A group of these pink-feathered waders is known as a bowl of spoonbills, and they often keep together in colonies. They’re social on both a grand scale and an individual scale. When raising a nest, both the male and the female in the pair take care of the eggs and babies.
    Roseate spoonbills eat a variety of aquatic critters, like minnows, crustaceans and even bits of plants. Much like flamingos, they may gain their pink coloring from the crustaceans that they eat. They scoop up their food from the water with spoon-like beaks that are sensitive to touch. Baby spoonbills lack that signature spoon shape. Their bills begin to flatten about a week after they’re born, attaining their signature shape after about five and a half weeks. They also lose feathers on their head as they grow, and they’re bald on the top of their heads as adults.
    In the 19th century, roseate spoonbills were hunted for their beautiful feathers. While women wore hats adorned with pink feathers, roseate spoonbill numbers dwindled. The species began to bounce back when they became legally protected from hunting. Now, their main threat is habitat loss.
    Their primary breeding grounds in the states are Texas, Louisiana, and Florida, but predators moving in from nearby islands force them to move. Human land development has also intruded on the roseate spoonbill’s living space, forcing the birds to find a new place to forage for food and lay their eggs.
    Perhaps that’s why one was found in North Beach; it was looking for some new real estate.