Sunday, 5 February 2017

Yellow-billed Spoonbills nesting

I have been following the progress of a Yellow-billed Spoonbill (Platalea flavipes) nest since 22 December 2016. On my most recent visit to the nest on 4 February 2017 the three young were fully fledged and, at most, a few days away from flying.

Yellow-billed Spoonbills mostly nest in large colonies or sometimes just a few pairs – in this case just one pair have been nesting, though I discovered a second nest under construction on 4 February 2017. There were up to 17 adult birds, most in breeding plumage, congregating in large Redgums around the nest tree on the edge of a constructed lagoon.

Please click on photos to enlarge.

Adult bird in breeding plumage – note the buff nuptial plumes on the upper breast and the fine black plumes from the inner wings. Many bird species rest and sleep on one leg with their bills tucked into their back feathers.

One juvenile bird was present among the 16 adult birds.

The stick nest is located high in an old Redgum on the right about half way up and well to the left of centre – the white young are just visible.

The water hole is about 90 metres from the nest tree. I doubt the Spoonbills would have nested in this location without the waterhole.

Apparently, when building a nest, the male fetches material and the female builds the nest. Both sexes share incubation which takes 27 to 30 days (clutch size 2-3). They may also construct nests from aquatic plants standing in water and often breed in association with Royal Spoonbills and Ibis.

For a post on nesting Royal Spoonbills see here:

On my first visit to the nest on 22 December the birds were most likely still incubating eggs.

Adult Yellow-billed Spoonbill in breeding plumage on the nest (22/12/16). The bill is open but no sound emerged. They are usually silent, however Morcombe advises during threat displays they can do soft nasal coughs, grunts and bill clapping.

On my next visit to the nest on 13 January 2017 an adult bird was on the nest however the young birds were so small at that stage that they were not visible above the top of the nest.

Adult bird on the nest (13/01/17) – the young are too small to be seen.
My next visit, just over a week later, on  21  January 2017, was a very different story. The young, now between 3 and 4 weeks old, were very visible and begging for food. My visits to the nest were during the early afternoon due to a better light angle for photos. I did not see the young fed on any of my visits.

The three young all begging for food at once. No food was forthcoming this time.

Parent bird with the three young (21/01/17) – as close to a family portrait as I will get as I have never seen both parents on the nest at the same time.

The young develop quite rapidly taking only 5 weeks from hatching to fully fledged birds ready to leave the nest and fly.

Wing feather development (21 /1/ 2017).
Wing feather development (1 /2/ 2017).

From 21  Jan - 1  Feb, the bills of the young become much more spoon like.

Note bill development (21/01/17).

Note bill tip has grown more spoon like by 1/2/2017.

By day when they were not out foraging for food in the district’s wetlands and farm dams the Yellow-billed Spoonbills either rested in the Redgums or by the waterhole. The birds in the Redgums provided an opportunity for photos.

Close-up of that amazing spoon bill.

A delicate and precision scratch at the edge of the eye with the pointy end of a claw.

When I arrived on 4 February 2017, the young were all standing on the nest. They were noticeably larger and were quite active as they flapped wings and preened. The now somewhat dilapidated white-washed nest was looking decidedly cramped. The adult bird was at the nest when I arrived but shortly after flew to a perch about 5 metres above the nest where it stayed while I was there for the next hour. Once again the young were not fed while I was there.

The young were exercising their wings and wing muscles in readiness to fly (4/02/17).

The young also spent time preening – no doubt removing their down as the new juvenile feathers, now well advanced, continued to grow (4/02/17).

A few flight shots to finish:

Natural colour.

Chrome filter applied.

Noir filter applied.

Natural colour again.

It is an interesting and rewarding undertaking to follow the progress of a pair of large and very visible nesting birds such as Spoonbills.

I hope you have enjoyed my notes and photos of this event.

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