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      Nature Report: Spoonbills Thrive

      Wading the shallow waters of the Lower Laguna Madre roseate spoonbills busily probe for food.

      With their rich pink feathering and distinctive spatula shaped bills, spoonbills are among the most recognizable birds of the bay. Sweeping their open bills from side to side spoonbills sift up small invertebrates, fish and crustaceans. They have touch receptors in their bills that help them feel for prey.

      Like the flamingo, the roseate spoonbills color comes from the food it eats.

      Spoonbills love shrimp and shrimp eat algae, and the algae make their own red and yellow pigments.

      The more spoonbills eat the pinker they get. Even when very young these baby spoonbills are easily identified by their specialized bill, which they eagerly thrust into their parents gaping mouths to receive a nutritious mix of regurgitated seafood.

      When they fledge, they will be more white than pink, but as they mature they will take on the rich pink hue of their parents. Audubon reportedly saw thousands of roseate spoonbills along the Texas coast in 1837, but by 1920 plume hunters had decimated the population. In 1920 a survey party reported only 179 birds along the central and lower coast. Fashionable ladies of the late 1800's and early 1900's craved the feathers of spoonbills, great egrets and other colonial waterbirds, and the birds were slaughtered by the thousands for the millinery trade. It was not until 1918 with the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that non game birds such as spoonbills began receiving federal protection Today, there are some 5,000 spoonbills on the Texas coast, and while pollution, habitat destruction and disturbance on their nesting islands pose threats, the bright pink birds appear to be thriving. With your Nature Report I'm Richard Moore