Back to Nature (Published on - Aug. 16, 2006)
It’s a flamingo?
Photo by Rick Tremmel
Roseate spoonbills wade in the warm, shallow waters near the Courtney Campbell Causeway.
What is the state bird of Florida? Most people will answer, flamingo. Florida’s image is ironically associated with Flamingos. Bright pink flamingos flatter logos, billboards, restaurant menus, travel brochures, and thousands of plastic flamingos decorate Florida gardens, campgrounds, beach towels, etc. Floridians are familiar with the site of large, pink birds wading in the shallow waters around the bay.

Shhh … don’t tell anyone, but those are not flamingos! Those large, pink wading birds out there in the waters around the bay are roseate spoonbills. Although reports document greater flamingos were once numerous in Florida, these birds are, for the most part, visitors to Florida. Flamingos are recorded in south Florida, specifically Cape Sable and Everglades National Park. Most often the flamingo you identify is an escapee from a local zoo.

Roseate spoonbills, Platalea ajaja, are native to Florida and are commonly seen by residents of the Tampa Bay area. The roseate spoonbill, once hunted to near extinction, is making a slow recovery. Habitat destruction, human invasion is this bird’s largest enemy.

Roseate spoonbills are fascinating birds to watch. They are perfectly equipped to feed in our shallow waters on fish, frogs and other aquatic invertebrates, while sweeping their flat, spoon-like bills from side to side. Their head is bare and appears grayish-green. The spoonbill’s neck is white. The lower back plumage, wings, and belly are light to bright pink. Spoonbills breed from the Florida Keys north to Tampa Bay. Roseate spoonbills nest in mangroves, laying two to five eggs.

Common places to observe the roseate spoonbill: Philippe Park, 2525 Philippe Pkwy., Safety Harbor, FL 34695, 669-1947; Boca Ciega Millennium Park, 12410 74th Ave. N., Seminole, FL 33772, 588-4882. Just off the Weedon Island Preserve is a roseate spoonbill colony and rookery that can be observed by boat, back to nature.

By the way, the northern mockingbird is the state bird of Florida.

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