African Spoonbill

African Spoonbill

Platalea alba
Population size
Life Span
15-30 yrs
1.3-2 kg
90 cm
120-135 cm

The African spoonbill is a long-legged wading bird that is almost unmistakable through most of its range. During the breeding season, the bird is all white except for its red legs and face and long grey spatulate bill. Immature birds lack the red face and have a yellow bill. Unlike herons, spoonbills fly with their necks outstretched.


African spoonbills are widespread across sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar, including Botswana, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. They live in marshy wetlands with some open shallow water; these include river banks, lake shores, marshes, flood plains, reservoirs, and sometimes coastal lagoons and estuaries.

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

African spoonbills are social birds that are active during the day. Outside of the breeding season, they can be found singly, in pairs, or in small groups. These birds spend most of their time walking slowly in shallow water searching for food. They fish using their open bill to catch prey items by swinging it from side-to-side in the water. The moment any small aquatic creature touches the inside of the bill it is snapped shut. Long legs and thin, pointed toes enable them to walk easily through varying depths of water. When not foraging African spoonbills rest along the shores, often in groups; they are usually silent and only when alarmed produce loud grunts.

Group name
Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

African spoonbills are carnivores (piscivores). They feed on various fish, mollusks, amphibians, crustaceans, insects, and larvae.

Mating Habits

29 days
20-30 days
3-5 eggs

African spoonbills are monogamous and form pairs, however, some males may attempt to mate with more than one female during the breeding season (polygynous behavior). The birds begin breeding in the winter, which lasts until spring. They nest in colonies in trees or reedbeds. Their nest is built from sticks and reeds and lined with leaves. The female lays 3 to 5 eggs, usually during the months of April or May. The eggs are incubated by both parents for up to 29 days. Upon hatching the chicks are cared for by both parents for around 20 to 30 days and are ready to leave the nest soon afterward. They begin flying after another 4 weeks.


Population threats

In some areas of their range, African spoonbills are threatened by the drainage of wetlands and by the destruction of breeding colonies at Lake Kinkony, Lake Bemamba, Lake Ihotry, and Lake Alaotra.

Population number

According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of the African spoonbill is around 7,300-73,000 mature individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its number today are stable.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • The spoonbills have a global distribution; these birds are found on every continent except Antarctica.
  • Spoonbills have a distinctive shape of their bill, which is long and flat and wider at the end. The nostrils are located near the base of the bill so that the bird can breathe while the bill is submerged in water.
  • Spoonbills generally prefer fresh water to salt but are found in both environments. They need to feed many hours each day.
  • Spoonbill chicks are born with a short bill; within 30 days after hatching their bill gradually develops into its spoon-like shape and becomes just like in adults.
  • African spoonbills are very shy and if a human gets too close, they will fly away.
  • African spoonbills sometimes follow hippos and Nile crocodiles to feast on aquatic prey stirred up by these large animals.


1. African Spoonbill on Wikipedia -
2. African Spoonbill on The IUCN Red List site -

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