Roseate Spoonbills Chose Oyster Bay Harbour
The first time you see a Roseate Spoonbill, you have to wonder how this graceful bird eats. Even though John James Audubon was not the first American to paint all the continent’s birds, he was the first one to give an answer to that question. Audubon loved to hide and watch birds for hours, studying how they behaved with nature, their species and food.He was particularly fond of the Spoonbill. “They immerse their bill and even their head and neck if needed and then move their slightly opened mandibles quietly around in search for food. Much like a Manatee, the Spoonbill ‘feels’ for its food of fry, insects and small shellfish, followed by careful munching before swallowing.” Also much like the Manatee, the Roseate Spoonbill in Florida is constantly being monitored and studied since relatively little is known of this elegant, endearing bird, which at interval times ends up on the endangered species list.
Although it is assumed that the Spoonbill is native to the Everglades, the numbers there have been dropping dramatically in recent years and researchers want to know why these birds are moving north into Tampa Bay and North East Florida, more specifically into Oyster Bay Harbour across the Amelia River from Fernandina Beach. They claim that the Roseate Spoonbill is the equivalent of the Canary in the Coalmine when it comes to detecting mismanagement of water levels.
Many Spoonbill habits remain a mystery, which is why Audubon of Florida is doing a major banding program with the species. With the study, researchers hope to discover how long the birds live, what their migration patterns are, where they nest and feed, and if and when they travel between the Tampa Bay area, Northeast Florida’s wetlands and the Everglades.
When staying for a weekend in Oyster Bay Yacht Club I realized that the Roseate Spoonbill has a definite routine as the entire flock which I estimate at about 100 birds, spread over two giant live oaks in the morning hours, then disappear for a couple of hours in the surrounding marshes and end up in the afternoon’s near the bridges that lead to the Island Cottages and the Yachtclub Villas.
Spoonbills were nearly wiped out by feather hunters in the early part of the last century. In 1935, there were fewer than 20 pairs in the state, all in Florida Bay in the Everglades. The numbers began rising about 1950 when protection was provided by the Audubon Society, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the establishment of the Everglades National Park.
Soon they also began to show up in other parts of the state while the count in the Everglades rose to 1,250 pairs in 1978.
But then by 2002 the numbers had dropped down again to 500 pairs, yet more than 300 pairs were counted in the Tampa Bay area in the same year, up from 183 in 2001.
The researchers want to know if there is a link between the decreases in the Everglades and the increases in Tampa Bay and other parts of the State.
“It’s all part of the restoration effort. The roseate spoonbill has become a species of special concern in the state,” said biologist John Moulding of the Army Corps of Engineers in Jacksonville. “It’s considered an indicator species for restoration. We’d like to develop some baseline information on how they’re doing and use that as a gauge against which to measure success in the future.”
Audubon’s banding effort is supposedly a 5 year program in which behavioral patterns will be studied.
For those living in Oyster Bay Harbour the sheer beauty of these birds is not lost.
“Seeing a pink bird against the Florida blue sky is just a picture of incredible beauty,” said one homeowner on his morning walk while I was taking pictures. “It’s a bird with personality and the way they feed is endearing. They’re gentle and stunningly beautiful. This bird will stop you in its tracks”, he added with a happy smile.
I couldn’t agree more.