African Spoonbill (Platalea alba)

African Spoonbill

[order] CICONIIFORMES | [family] Threskiornithidae | [latin] Platalea alba | [authority] Scopoli, 1786 | [UK] African Spoonbill | [FR] Spatule d’Afrique | [DE] Afrikanischer Loffler | [ES] Espetula africana | [NL] Afrikaanse Lepelaar


Genus Species subspecies Region Range
Platalea alba AF widespread


Platelea or Spoonbills are a group of large, long-legged wading birds in the family Threskiornithidae, which also includes the Ibises. Spoonbills are monogamous, but, so far as is known, only for one season at a time. Most species nest in trees or reed-beds, often with ibises or herons. The male gathers nesting material?mostly sticks and reeds, sometimes taken from an old nest?the female weaves it into a large, shallow bowl or platform which varies in its shape and structural integrity according to species. The female lays a clutch of about 3 smooth, oval, white eggs and both parents incubate; chicks hatch one at a time rather than all together. The newly hatched young are blind and cannot care for themselves immediately; both parents feed them by partial regurgitation. Chicks’ bills are short and straight, and only gain the characteristic spoonbill shape as they mature. Their feeding continues for a few weeks longer after the family leaves the nest. The primary cause of brood failure appears not to be predation but starvation. African Spoonbills (Platalea alba) standing and feeding in captivity.All have large, flat, spatulate bills and feed by wading through shallow water, sweeping the partly opened bill from side to side. The moment any small aquatic creature touches the inside of the bill?an insect, crustacean, or tiny fish?it is snapped shut. Spoonbills generally prefer fresh water to salt but are found in both environments. They need to feed many hours each day.

Physical charateristics

The African Spoonbill is a long legged wading bird. Its body is mostly white, except for its red legs, face, and bill. Easily identifiable by its uniquely spoon-shaped bill, the African Spoonbill is born with a short beak, that gradually develops into its spoon-like shape. It usually resembles a spoon right before it is time to leave its nest. Male and female birds are similar in appearance.

Listen to the sound of African Spoonbill

[audio: Spoonbill.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 120 cm wingspan max.: 135 cm
size min.: 90 cm size max.: 91 cm
incubation min.: 25 days incubation max.: 29 days
fledging min.: 43 days fledging max.: 48 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 2  
      eggs max.: 4  


Africa : widespread. The species breeds during the dry season from West Africa to eastern Sudan, in the rains (or sometimes in the dry season) in East and central Africa, and in winter or early spring in southern Africa.


The species inhabits large, shallow inland waters such as lakes and rivers, seasonal and permanent pans, marshes, flood plains, sewage works4, reservoirs and artificial ponds3, less often occurring at coastal lagoons, salt-pans, creeks and estuaries.


The nest is a flat oval platform of sticks and reeds situated over water on partly submerged trees, in bushes or reeds, on the ground on rocky islets or on rocky ledges. The species nests colonially in favoured nesting sites such as secluded lakes, river oxbows and islands of vegetation. The African Spoonbill usually breeds in colonies from late March through September. The female may lay 3-5 eggs during the month of April or May. It lays its eggs mostly in a nest platform of sticks or reeds in a tree near water, but its nest can also be found in swamp reeds, among rocks, marsh plants, or cliffs. These nests are either near the ground or in trees over water. The inside of the nest is often lined with leaves. The egg is incubated for up to 29 days by both parents. Hatchlings are cared for by both parents for 20-30 days. Soon after, the young birds are ready to leave the nest. They begin to fly after another four weeks.

Feeding habits

The species is carnivorous, its diet consisting of small fish and aquatic invertebrates1 such as crayfish and water beetles

Video African Spoonbill


copyright: J. del Hoyo


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size may be moderately small to large, but it is not believed to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
In Madagascar the species is seriously threatened by the destruction of breeding colonies at Lake Kinkony, Lake Bemamba, Lake Ihotry and Lake Alaotra. It is also threatened by the drainage of wetlands in some areas.
African Spoonbill status Least Concern


The migratory patterns of this species are poorly known, although it is likely to make nomadic movements in response to local rainfall rather than truly seasonal movements.

Distribution map

African Spoonbill distribution range map

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