Royal Spoonbill

An unusual bird that is worth watching for on the Kaipara Harbour is the Royal Spoonbill.  These are striking, elegant white birds, the size of a large heron, with a long black spatulate or spoon-shaped bill.

Spoonbills are gregarious birds, breeding, roosting, and often feeding, in small flocks.  They feed along the margins of shallow freshwater lakes, or in brackish coastal lagoons and tidal estuaries.

Spoonbills spend the winter in the north from their breeding colonies in the South Island.  Recent exceptions are a permanent colony in the Parengarenga Harbour in the Far North, and a small colony near Kapiti Island.

On the Kaipara Harbour, Spoonbills were first seen visiting in the early 1990s, and appear in Ornithological Society surveys of the harbour in 1997 and 1998 when 14 birds were recorded each June.  There were a few years when they were not recorded, and then winter numbers increased steadily with 24 recorded in June 2001, 36 in 2003, 30 in 2004 and 43 in 2005.   They usually fly south from the Kaipara in spring and return in the autumn. 

Most of the Spoonbills are seen on Rat Island opposite Shelley Beach (map), but there are also recent sightings at the mouth of the Hoteo River, and up the Tauhoa River where seven birds were seen in September 2006.

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

For more information about birding in your area, contact the Ornithological Society through their website at and select your region on the Contacts page.

Photo: Suzi Phillips