Spoonbill, African

Platalea alba 

Height: 36” (90 cm); wingspan: 14.4” – 15.9” (365 – 403 mm).  African spoonbills are all white except for red legs and face and long grey spatulate bill. At birth, the African spoonbill’s beak does not resemble a spoon. It is born with a short beak that gradually develops into a spoon-like shape. It usually resembles a spoon right before it is time to leave its nest. It has no crest; immature birds lack the red face and have a yellow bill.








Widespread across Africa and Madagascar


Marshy wetlands with some open shallow water like river banks, lake shores, marshes, plains, savannas, swamps and water-meadows.

Life Expectancy

Up to 30 years in captivity

Sexual Maturity

2-3 years of age (based on roseate spoonbill maturity)


In the wild they feed on fish and aquatic invertebrates such as crustaceans or shellfishes, insects, larvae, and mollusks; in the Zoo they are fed Capelin, silversides and a scientifically developed, commercially available bird of prey diet and pellets.


IUCN – Least Concern


The African spoonbill is usually a shy and alert bird usually found in small groups of 3 to 30. It is usually silent, except for an occasional grunt when alarmed. This bird travels by flight. It flies with its neck and legs extended while flapping its wings steadily in the air. It feeds by fishing in shallow water, swinging its open bill from side to side in the water. Its bill acts as a scythe (hooked tool) to catch food. The migratory patterns of this species are poorly known, although it is likely to make nomadic movements in response to local rainfall rather than truly seasonal movements. It nests colonially with other species, usually in groups of 5-20 pairs, and occasionally in groups of up to 250 pairs or more. It remains gregarious outside of the breeding season, usually in small parties of 3-30 individuals, roosting communally in trees or reedbeds and resting along the shores of inland shallow waters, sometimes in large numbers of up to 1000. The breeding season varies throughout the range, and is also variable from year to year, being suspended in sites when the rains do not occur. The species breeds during the dry season from West Africa to eastern Sudan, in the rains (or sometimes in the dry season) in East and central Africa, and in winter or early spring in southern Africa. The female may lay 3-5 eggs during April or May. Eggs are usually spotted with colored dots of red, brown, or blue. The nest is a flat oval platform of sticks and reeds situated over water on partly submerged trees, in bushes or reeds, on the ground on rocky islets or on rocky ledges. The species nests colonially in favored nesting sites such as secluded lakes, river oxbows and islands of vegetation. The inside of the nest is often lined with leaves. The egg undergoes incubation for up to 29 days by both parents. After hatching, the young are cared for by both parents for 20-30 days. They begin to fly after another four weeks.


The inside of the spatula-shaped beak reacts to touch. When it touches something in the water, it snaps shut quickly. The long bare legs are adapted for wading in shallow waters.

Special Interests



The African Spoonbill is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies. In Madagascar the species is seriously threatened by the destruction of breeding colonies at Lake Kinkony, Lake Bemamba, Lake Ihotry and Lake Alaotra. It is also threatened by the drainage of wetlands in some areas. This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion. The population trend appears to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion. The population size may be moderately small to large, but it is not believed to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion. For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

Jacksonville Zoo History

African spoonbills have been part of the Jacksonville animal collection since 1990.


River Valley Aviary