Eurasian spoonbill -- 白琵鹭 (Platalea leucorodia)

Adult Eurasian spoonbill scratching head, showing crown
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Eurasian spoonbill fact file

Eurasian spoonbill description

GenusPlatalea (1)

The distinctively spatulate bill of the Eurasian spoonbill lends this tall, pure white waterbird a slightly comical appearance (3). During the breeding season, adults develop a crest of pointed and drooping plumes, as well as patches of yellow on the upper breast and the tip of the bill (2) (3) (4) (5). The rest of the bill is black, as are the long legs. The sexes are similar in overall appearance but the male is somewhat larger than the female, with a longer bill and longer legs (2). Juveniles resemble the non-breeding adults, but have pinkish bills and black tips to the wing feathers (2) (5). Four subspecies, with distinct breeding ranges, are currently recognised: Platalea leucorodia leucorodia, P. l. major, P. l. balsaci, and P. l. archeri (5).

Also known as
European spoonbill, spoonbill.
Spatule blanche.
Length: 70 - 95 cm (2)
1130 - 1960 g (2)

Eurasian spoonbill biology

The Eurasian spoonbill forages alone or in small groups, wading methodically through shallow water whilst sweeping its distinctive bill from side to side in search of prey (2). Small fish, aquatic insects, shrimp and other invertebrates comprise the bulk of its diet, but it will also take algae and fragments of aquatic plants, although these may just be accidentally ingested (2) (6). Foraging activity generally peaks around morning and evening, except in coastal areas, where it is governed by the timing of low tide (6).

Populations in the north of this species’ range breed during the spring, whilst in the tropics the timing of the breeding season coincides with the rains. Most breeding pairs nest in monospecific colonies, or mixed species colonies in which they tend to form small monospecific groups. The nest is a platform of twigs, sticks and other bits of vegetation located on the ground on a small island, or up to five metres above the ground in dense reed, bushes, trees or mangroves (2) (6). The female usually lays three to four eggs which are incubated for around 24 to 25 days before hatching (2).

Except for the Northwest Africa (P. l. balsaci) and Red Sea (P. l. archeri) populations, which are sedentary, the Eurasian spoonbill is migratory throughout its range, (5). During migration this species generally flies in formation at considerable height, and, on long-distance flights, uses sites along the way to stopover and recover energy (2).


Eurasian spoonbill range

The wide but fragmented breeding range of the Eurasian spoonbill extends from Europe to northwest Africa, the Red Sea, India and China. Wintering areas include the Atlantic coast of Europe, the Mediterranean, sub-Saharan Africa, southwest Asia, India, Sri Lanka, southern China, and Japan (5).


Eurasian spoonbill habitat

The Eurasian spoonbill inhabits fresh and saltwater marshes, estuaries, deltas, tidal creeks, rivers, lakes, reservoirs and mangrove swamps (5) (6). It shows a particular preference for shallow wetlands with a mud, clay or fine sand bottom, as well as islands, dense reedbeds, and scattered trees and shrubs for nesting (2) (6).


Eurasian spoonbill status

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES 3).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Eurasian spoonbill threats

With the notable exception of the western European population (P. l. leucorodia), which appears to be increasing in size, most populations of the Eurasian spoonbill are declining. The subspecies P. l. balsaci is most at risk, with the remaining 750 breeding pairs (as of 2008) restricted to a single site in Mauritania, which faces an increasing risk of flooding due to sea-level rise. Furthermore, a large proportion of the juveniles at this site are killed by predators, such as jackals (5). Elsewhere across its range, the Eurasian spoonbill is threatened by habitat loss and degradation, human disturbance, pollution, hunting, and exploitation of eggs (2) (5) (6).


Eurasian spoonbill conservation

The Eurasian spoonbill is listed under Appendix II of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), which aims to conserve migratory species throughout their range (7). Furthermore, it is also listed under the associated Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA), which calls upon parties to engage in a range of conservation actions to help protect and conserve bird species that are dependent on wetlands for at least part of their annual cycle (8). An action plan for the Eurasian spoonbill was published by the International Spoonbill Working Group in 2008, setting out measures to increase the number of breeding pairs in populations that are currently under threat. This includes habitat rehabilitation and protection, control of predators, protection of Eurasian spoonbills from persecution, and further research into the migratory movements of each subspecies (5).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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The act of incubating eggs, that is, keeping them warm so that development is possible.
Comprising a single species.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.


  1. IUCN Red List (October, 2008)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1992) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 1: Ostrich to Ducks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. RSPB (July, 2009)
  4. Whistler, H. (1963) Popular handbook of Indian birds. Oliver and Boyd, Edinburgh.
  5. Triplet, P., Overdijk, O., Smart, M., Nagy, S., Schneider-Jacoby, M., Karauz, E.S., Pigniczki, C., Baha El Din, S., Kralj, J., Sandor, A. and Navedo, J.G. (2008) International Single Species Action Plan for the Conservation of the Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia. AEWA Technical Series No.35, Bonn, Germany.
  6. BirdLife International (July, 2009)
  7. Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) (July, 2009)
  8. African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (July, 2009)

Image credit

Adult Eurasian spoonbill scratching head, showing crown  
Adult Eurasian spoonbill scratching head, showing crown

© Erwan Balança / Biosphoto

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