A great egret looks for breakfast at Calamvale Creek


Scientific stuff

Royal spoonbill
Also called black-billed spoonbill

Platelea regia
75-80 centimetres (30-32 inches)

Large white water-bird with long, thin black legs, a black face with a yellow spot over the eye, and a long black bill shaped something like a spoon.

Royal spoonbills inhabit shallow waters and wave their highly sensitive beaks back and forth in the water until they touch something they recognise as food. They quickly snap up this food.

During their breeding season they have a fluffy spike of feathers protruding from the high back of their head.

Slow mover with lightning fast reflexes in the water. Associates well with cormorants, egrets, and other water birds.

Using our photos

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Sugar's photos

Sugar comes and goes from Calamvale Creek. She flies in to see how the fishing is, stays a while, then leaves again.

The photographer said:
“Sugar is one of the itinerants of the creek. I was surprised to see her one morning when I was out photographing.

Eddy the egret had flown off a few weeks earlier, and several other bird visitors had dropped in during that time — indicating things had changed after a few days of very heavy rain in Brisbane, and a recent flood in the creek.

“One of the little pied cormorants must be in love with her, as he followed her all around the creek the whole time I was photographing.”

Critters of Calamvale Creek

Sugar, the royal spoonbill

Also called black-billed spoonbill

Platelea regia

royal_spoonbill_6 (22K)Greetings from Sugar the royal spoonbill. I am one of the regular visitors to Calamvale Creek in Brisbane, Australia.

Like a number of the large aquatic birds here, I fly to different wetlands looking for the best food source. But I do come to the creek here occasionally to see how the fishing is.

I don't like a lot of disturbance, particularly when breeding, and have seen a number of suitable habitats destroyed by land-clearing and weed intrusion. I have benefited from artificial wetlands, because if they are well thought out they can provide a good environment for me to raise my chicks.

royal_spoonbill_1 (20K)

Here's my bill

royal_spoonbill_3 (6K)The feature that distinguishes spoonbills from other similar large white birds, such as egrets and ibises, is of course our bill.

My black bill is about 20 centimetres (8 inches) long, and it widens to a spoon shape at the tip. See the photo at left.

My bill is able to detect prey as soon as it touches, so I feed by wading slowly in shallow water swishing my bill from side to side.

I feed mainly on fish in freshwater wetlands, but enjoy shrimp and other aquatic animals when I go tidal flats. As I rely on touch to get my meals, I can even feed in muddy water.

Who are my friends?

royal_spoonbill_5 (21K)I get on well with other water birds, and you will see me in the company of egrets, cormorants, swamp hens and herons around the creek.

There is one particular little pied cormorant at Calamvale Creek that seems to be in love with me. He follows me around, and displays his wings to assure me his armpits smell like fish. You can see him showing off in the photo above.

royal_spoonbill_4 (23K) There he is again in the photo at right. I told him I was going fishing and he said, “I'll come too!”

He's only about two-thirds of my size, but he obviously likes tall women. What can you say to an adoring fan like that!

How do I build my nest?

During breeding season, October to April, I have long plumes at the back of my head.

royal_spoonbill_2 (30K)I prefer to build my large dish-shaped nest out of sticks, and place it in a leafy tree overhanging the water.

I reuse the nest year after year, and lay two to four large spotted white eggs. Both sexes incubate the eggs and look after the chicks when they hatch in 21 days.

If I am threatened at my nest, I will puff myself out to look much larger and more threatening than I really am. Then I crouch over the eggs to protect them.

— Sugar the royal spoonbill