Royal visitor a rare treat

A royal spoonbill has been visiting Waikawau Bay estuary, feeding on fish and shrimps in the tidal flats.

Appearing occasionally in Coromandel estuaries, this tall, stately and unusual looking bird has been seen at several spots along our coast. A solitary spoonbill was observed feeding in Waikawau Bay estuary this winter.

Spoonbills feed by walking along and sweeping their bill in smooth sideways arcs, using the water movement to gather and filter out the small invertebrates, fish and frogs they eat.

In our estuaries they are often seen feeding in cooperation with white-faced herons. There seems to be a ‘symbiotic’ relationship where the spoonbill disturbs the muddy or sandy bottom looking for ground dwelling creatures while the herons catch the small fish which flee these disturbances. Spoonbills are more than twice the size of white-faced herons.

They first appeared in New Zealand in 1861, with the first breeding recorded in 1949 alongside the white heron breeding colony at Okarito. Since then spoonbills have successfully colonized New Zealand from Australia and are now widespread although uncommon. In 1977 the population was estimated at 52; growing to about 2000 by 2012. Keep a lookout for these stunning and beautiful birds.

Photo credit: Neil Foster