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Species Guide
A photo of a African Spoonbill (Platalea alba)
African Spoonbill

African Spoonbill

Platalea alba

The African spoonbill, Platalea alba, is a striking wading bird belonging to the ibis and spoonbill family, Threskiornithidae. This species is characterized by its long legs, which facilitate wading through marshy wetlands, and its distinctive long grey spatulate bill, which is used to sift through shallow waters for food. Adult birds are predominantly white with red legs and a red face, while immature birds can be identified by their yellow bills and the absence of red on their faces.

Identification Tips

When identifying the African spoonbill, look for a large, all-white bird with a unique spoon-shaped bill. During flight, unlike herons, spoonbills keep their necks outstretched. Breeding adults will exhibit more vibrant red coloration on their legs and face, and their bill will be grey. Juveniles can be distinguished by their paler bill color and lack of red facial markings.


The African spoonbill is found in marshy wetlands that have open shallow water. It prefers environments where it can wade and forage for food, such as in reedbeds or along the edges of bodies of water.


This bird has a widespread presence across Africa and Madagascar, with sightings reported in countries including Botswana, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.


African spoonbills are known for their methodical feeding technique, swinging their open bills side-to-side in the water to catch prey. They are sociable birds, often nesting in colonies, but they typically do not share these colonies with storks or herons. Their long legs and thin, pointed toes are perfectly adapted for navigating through varying water depths.

Song & Calls

The African spoonbill is generally silent, but it may make soft grunting noises during the breeding season.


Breeding season for the African spoonbill occurs in the winter and extends into spring. During this time, males display more pronounced plumage and brighter colors. Nests are constructed from sticks and reeds in trees above water and lined with leaves. Females lay three to five eggs, primarily in April or May. Both parents share the responsibility of incubating the eggs for up to 29 days. After hatching, the chicks are cared for by both parents for approximately 20 to 30 days, becoming ready to fly four weeks post-fledging.

Similar Species

The African spoonbill can be confused with the common spoonbill; however, it lacks the crest found on the latter. Additionally, the common spoonbill has a yellowish bill, whereas the African spoonbill's bill is grey.

Diet and Feeding

The diet of the African spoonbill includes a variety of fish, molluscs, amphibians, crustaceans, insects, and larvae. Its specialized bill allows it to efficiently sift through water to capture these prey items.

Conservation status

The IUCN Red List classifies the African spoonbill as Least Concern, indicating that the species currently faces no significant threats to its survival. It is also protected under the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA).

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African Spoonbill Fun Facts

Did you know?
The African spoonbill's Latin name, Platalea alba, translates to "pearl waterbird"
Did you know?
The African spoonbills have relativly long lifespans and can live as long as 15 years in the wild.

African Spoonbills on Birda


More Ibises, Spoonbills

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