A Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia) is present at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust reserve at Slimbridge currently. I visited the site yesterday afternoon, and the bird hadn’t been seen earlier in the day but just after I arrived at the Tack Piece hides, it flew in and started feeding very actively on the shallow pools just in front of me, and then rested up and started preening … cue the camera, and here is a selection of the best photos from the 150 or so that I took.
Spoonbill is a scarce bird in Britain, although because they’re large and conspicuous, inhabit the sort of wetland sites that birdwatchers visit, and tend to hang around for days, weeks or months, they can give the impression of being more common than they really are. They are on the increase here however, and you stand a reasonable chance of finding one yourself if you spend enough time birding around the Severn estuary: I added Spoonbill to my “self-found list” with one on Goldcliff Pools in Gwent in 2009; this is the second one I’ve seen at Slimbridge and I’ve also seen birds at Steart. They are much less common inland, although my very first Spoonbill was at Chew Valley Lake over 20 years ago, and there was even one a few years ago on a small lake near Swindon.
Spoonbill numbers elsewhere in Britain have been building up for a while, and double-figure flocks are now seen in most winters in Poole Harbour, with other favoured sites including the Taw/Torridge and Tamar estuaries in Devon. However, East Anglia is doing even better, as birds have now established a breeding colony on the north Norfolk coast. All of this increase is fuelled by a burgeoning population in wetlands in the Netherlands.
Although their odd appearance might suggest that they occupy an ancient branch on the bird evolutionary tree, spoonbills are really just members of the ibis family that have evolved a specialised feeding technique and the apparatus to go with it. Spatulate bills seem to evolve quite readily in waterbirds, with Shoveler ducks, and a small shorebird, the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, also having them. There are five other species of spoonbill worldwide: two in Australasia, one in Africa, the gaudy pink Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) in the Americas, and the endangered Black-faced Spoonbill (Platalea minor) in southeast Asia.You can see some videos of Spoonbills feeding on this page on the ARKive website.