Yellow-billed Spoonbill (Platalea flavipes)

Yellow-billed Spoonbill

[order] CICONIIFORMES | [family] Threskiornithidae | [latin] Platalea flavipes | [authority] Gould, 1838 | [UK] Yellow-billed Spoonbill | [FR] Spatule a bec jaune | [DE] Gelbschnabel-Loffler | [ES] Espatula Piquigualda | [NL] Geelsnavellepelaar


Genus Species subspecies Region Range
Platalea flavipes AU Australia


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 Yellow-billed Spoonbill is a large, white waterbird with a yellow face and spatulate (spoon-shaped) bill, and yellow legs and feet. During breeding season, the facial skin is outlined in black, the lacy outer wing plumes are tipped black and there are long hackles on its upper breast. Out of breeding, the face is yellow with no black outline and the lacy plumes and hackles are reduced or absent. Young birds are similar to adults, but have black markings on the inner flight feathers

wingspan min.: 0 cm wingspan max.: 0 cm
size min.: 76 cm size max.: 100 cm
incubation min.: 26 days incubation max.: 31 days
fledging min.: 0 days fledging max.: 0 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 2  
      eggs max.: 4  


Australasia : Australia. The Yellow-billed Spoonbill is found across Australia in suitable habitat, particularly in the north and well-watered inland areas, but is less common in coastal regions. It is a vagrant to Lord Howe Island and New Zealand.


The Yellow-billed Spoonbill is found in the shallows of freshwater wetlands, dams, lagoons and swamps, and sometimes in dry pastures, but rarely uses saltwater wetlands. It can use much smaller areas of water than the Royal Spoonbill


The Yellow-billed Spoonbill often nests solitary or in loose colonies with other water birds, such as ibises and Royal Spoonbills. It places its nest in high forks of trees over water, or in among reed beds, building a shallow, unlined platform of sticks, rushes and reeds. The male collects the nest materials while the female builds and both sexes share incubation and care of the young. Clutch is 2-4 eggs which are incubated for about 4 weeks.

Feeding habits

The Yellow-billed Spoonbill feeds on aquatic insects and their larvae, using its bill to sweep shallow waters for prey. The spatulate bill has many vibration detectors, called papillae, on the inside of the spoon, which means the bird can feel for prey items even in murky water and can feed by day or night. Once food is caught, it lifts its bill up and lets the items slide down its throat. The Yellow-billed Spoonbill has less sensory papillae and a smaller spoon than the Royal Spoonbill, which means that it catches slower moving prey

Video Yellow-billed Spoonbill


copyright: Nick Talbot


This species has a very 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 fluctuating, 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.
Yellow-billed Spoonbill status Least Concern


Appears to be mostly sedentary in S of Australia; observations suggest regular movements in N of range and in inland New South Wales. Vagrant to Tasmania, New Zealand, Lord Howe I and Norfolk I.

Distribution map

Yellow-billed Spoonbill distribution range map

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