My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

In the Pink: The Lives of Spoonbills

I recently visited the wading bird rookery at High Island.  In the last few years, there have been more and more roseate spoonbills competing for nesting spots with great ,snowy, and cattle egrets and neotropic cormorants. 

I drove into the back entrance to this Audubon sanctuary, then walked along a path that went under a tunnel of trees before reaching steps that lead to the raised edge of the lake. Shrubs have grown up in the last few years, since Hurricane Ike destroyed a lot of trees here and the path along that levy is mostly behind shrubs.  But the Audubon Society has built several viewing platforms so you can get many perspectives on the rookery. 

The sound and smell of thousands of birds hits you first, then you get to a viewing spot and see one end of the rookery.  It is on a horseshoe-shaped island .  Both arms could be seen in the past, but now the back arm is mostly screened from view by the shrubs growing on the front arm.  As you move down the path along the lake, you get closer and closer to the birds, until you are only about eighty feet across the lake from many of the nests. 

I love roseate spoonbills and, over two visits, one a couple of years ago, I had many roseate spoonbill pictures, so I thought I'd share the lives of these beautiful/ugly, graceful/clumsy, birds.  I really admire their fashion sense.  Who else would wear hot pink with red, orange and yellow?  Even guy spoonbills wear these colors with panache. 

A small piece of the rookery at Smith Woods, High Island, Texas

Life in the rookery is chaotic with birds flying in and out, birds feeding in the water at the base of the trees, birds fighting, having sex, resting,  collecting sticks, or just hanging out. When the chicks hatch,  the action gets even wilder. Spoonbills do a little courting but I'm not sure which actions are part of the courting ritual.  The males bring in sticks and then both seem to decide where to put them.  I saw some males bring sticks to females already sitting on eggs. 

There are frequent chases and confrontations, that usually don't get to the physical stage

An altercation with a snowy egret

Feeding peacefully

Snack time

I couldn't find my picture of it, but a few years ago I heard the sound of sabres rattling.  I looked toward the sound and saw two spoonbills fighting over a stick.  One went after the other with his bill and the second one blocked back with his own bill.  Then they shook their heads and rattled their bills until one finally gave up and left the stick to the victor. 

These guys seemed to be each trying to break a stick off the larger branch

This bird was trying to find a stick

And this bird brought a stick to the nest

Hanging out - picture taken two years ago and this tree has fallen down

They look their best in flight

Both pairs share nest duties but often one bird is on the nest and the other is standing nearby.  The bird standing around often chases off other birds. 

Chasing off a rival?

Beginning of another altercation

Birds often land at the very top of a shrub or tree - is this part of their display?

Both mates are often together with one on the nest and one standing nearby

There is NO privacy

I have yet to be there when I can get pictures of the babies. But if you live in the area, there should be babies you can visit in two or three weeks. Great egrets already have babies and some snowys are sitting on eggs. The light is best after 4:00 P.M.

Click on the picture to read many more blogs about wild birds.