The stately Royal Spoonbill is one of six spoonbill species worldwide, and the only one that breeds in New Zealand. This large white water bird was first recorded in New Zealand at Castle Point in 1861. Sightings increased through the 1900s, with breeding first recorded next to the white heron colony at Okarito, South Westland, in 1949. Since then it has successfully colonized New Zealand from Australia and is now widespread, breeding at multiple sites on both main islands, and dispersing to coastal sites across the country after the breeding season. In flight, birds hold their neck outstretched and trail legs behind, looking rather awkward, like a “Dr Seuss” cartoon bird. Their closest relatives are the ibises.
A large, bulky, long-legged water bird with white plumage and black spoon-shaped bill, facial skin, legs and feet. During the breeding season, adults grow distinctive long white crest feathers on the back of the head or nape, up to 20 cm long in males. The crest is raised during mating displays revealing pink skin beneath. The bill is 136 – 220 mm long; the wingspan is circa 120 cm. Breeding birds have a creamy-yellow breast, a yellow patch above each eye, and a red patch in the middle of the forehead in front of the crest feathers. Females are slightly smaller than males, with shorter legs and bill. Outside the breeding season the crest feathers are smaller and the rest of the plumage often appears soiled. Juveniles resemble non-breeding adults but are slightly smaller with a shorter bill, dark tips to the main flight feathers, and lack a crest and coloured face patches. When wading in shallow water it often submerges the bill and repeatedly sweeps it in a wide arc in search of prey.