RIO GRANDE VALLEY, Texas – It is peak nesting season for one of the Valley’s most colorful birds. Richard Moore takes us out into the Laguna Madre where Roseate spoonbills thrive.
Wading the shallow waters of the Lower Laguna Madre, Roseate spoonbills busily probe for food. With their rich pink feathering and distinctive spoon shaped bills, spoonbills are among the most recognizable birds of the bay.
Sweeping their open bills from side to side, spoonbills sift up small invertebrates, fish and crustaceans. They have touch receptors in their bills that help them feel for prey.
Like the flamingo, Roseate spoonbills color comes from the food it eats. Spoonbills savor shrimp and shrimp eat algae. The algae make their own red and yellow pigments, and the more spoonbills eat the pinker they get.
It is peak nesting season, and these colonial water birds share Green Island and a handful of spoil islands with other wading birds.
Both the male and female feed the young, and when a parent arrives the two downy nestlings become very excited in anticipation of a meal.
Opening its bill, the adult allows a baby to thrust its head up into the gap where the chick receives a regurgitated mix of nutritious food. This procedure allows for very little loss of the precious meal, and after a pause the process is repeated several more times until both offspring are fed.
It takes numerous feedings, but finally the youngsters settle down, and their parent lingers at the nest while they begin to doze off.
It will take approximately eight weeks from hatching before they are ready to fly, and they will eventually take on the rich pink hue of their parents as they mature.
Meanwhile, throughout the spoonbill colony the head swallowing ritual continues as baby spoonbills garner the necessary nutrition to one day join their parents as they seine the shallows.