Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia)

Eurasian Spoonbill

[order] CICONIIFORMES | [family] Threskiornithidae | [latin] Platalea leucorodia | [authority] Linnaeus, 1758 | [UK] Eurasian Spoonbill | [FR] Spatule blanche | [DE] Loffler | [ES] Espatula de Eurasia | [NL] Lepelaar


Monotypic species


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

Large, white, and rather graceful heron-like bird with long, broad, spatulate bill, long neck, and long legs. Wears yellowish nuchal spray and golden breast patch in breeding plumage. Sexes similar. Juvenile has black tips to primaries and pink bill, becoming dark during first winter. Combination of white plumage, long spoon-shaped bill, and neck extended in flight unmistakable. Usually seen on ground or in shallow water where feeds by characteristically sweeping tip of bill from side to side. Flies with slower and more measured wing-beats than Glossy Ibis, but not as slow as larger herons, often gliding for short distances; parties usually fly in single file.

Listen to the sound of Eurasian Spoonbill

[audio: Spoonbill.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 120 cm wingspan max.: 135 cm
size min.: 80 cm size max.: 93 cm
incubation min.: 24 days incubation max.: 25 days
fledging min.: 45 days fledging max.: 25 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 3  
      eggs max.: 5  


Africa, Eurasia, Oriental Region : widespread


Basically within warm climates, locally penetrating deep into temperate zone. Normally in coastal lowlands or alluvial river basins but breeds exceptionally to nearly 2000 m on Lake Sevan, Armenia. Highly specialized bill ties it while feeding strictly to shallow, usually extensive waters of fairly even depth with bottoms of mud, clay, or fine sand, preferably with gentle tidal changes or slow currents, or newly flooded, whether fresh, salt, or brackish. For breeding prefers dense reedbeds and similar masses of emergent plants, often with scattered shrubs or trees, such as willows and poplars, which used for nesting.


Spring breeder in North of range. In Indian Subcontinent depending on water conditions, African breeders before or during rains. Nest built on ground or mat of old reeds in dense reedbeds; in willow thickets close to water, and up to 5 m above ground. Occasionally in grass tussocks where no other vegetation. Colonial; nests mostly 1-2 m apart, but sometimes touching. Nest is a large pile of reeds, twigs, and grass stems, lined grass and leaves. Typically forms monospecifec colonies although in the Netherlands (Oostvaardersplassen) colonies have been formed with Little Egrets, nesting on the outer range of the Spoonbill colony.
3-4 eggs are laid, incubation 24-25 days. chicks have sparse white down. Sexual maturity 3-4 years old.

Feeding habits

Water insects: dragonflies, beetles, locusts and caddisflies, frogs and small fish. Sometimes algae, aquatic and other plant matter.
Usually feeds in small flocks by sweeping bill from side to side, sometimes runs after prey, partly nocturnal.

Video Eurasian Spoonbill


copyright: youtube


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 is not known, but the population is not believed to be decreasing sufficiently rapidly to approach the thresholds under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not 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.
Platalea leucorodia is a widespread but patchily distributed breeder across much of
southern Europe, which holds just over 50% of its global population. Its European
breeding population is small (as few as 8,900 pairs), and underwent a large decline
between 1970-1990. Although the sizeable Russian population continued to decline
during 1990-2000, the species increased or was stable across most of the rest of Europe,
and was stable overall. Nevertheless, its population size renders it susceptible to the
risks affecting small populations, and consequently it is evaluated as Rare.
This bird has a wide distribution throughout the southern parts of Eurasia, from the Iberian Peninsula to India and China. It winters in the Mediterranean regions and in Sub-Saharan Africa. The population of the European Union is totalling 1200-1400 breeding pairs, which represents 14-25% of the total European population. The western populations have increased during the last decades, but the eastern populations, including the Greek population, have undergone a steady decline. Consequently, the total European population has probably declined by 30%. Wetland reclamation and pollution are the main reasons
Eurasian Spoonbill status Least Concern


Migratory and dispersive. Such post-fledging dispersal as occurs (July-August) normally for relatively short distances. Main departures from European colonies August-September; few remaining October. Occasional Netherlands in mild winters, when a few fairly regularly south-west England and south Ireland. European breeding population winters in Mediterranean basin and northern tropical Africa. Early arrivals back in Netherlands and Azerbaijan in second half February, but most return to European colonies late March and April. Migration often diurnal, small parties or large flocks; usually in transverse line formation, or soaring and circling at considerable heights.

Distribution map

Eurasian Spoonbill distribution range map


Title Microverontreinigingen in lepelaarkuikens uit het Zwanenwater
Author(s): B. van Hattum, K. Swart en B. van der Horst
Abstract: De broedkolonies van de lepelaar (Platalea leucoro..[more]..
Source: Institute for Environmental Studies

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Title Dispersal and migration in Eurasian Spoonbills Platalea leucorodia
Author(s): Le-Court C. & Aguilera E.
Abstract: Sightings of Eurasian Spoonbills marked at the Odi..[more]..
Source: ARDEA 85 (2): 193-202

download full text (pdf)

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