The roseate spoonbill, like this one shown here, is a coastal wading bird that is uncommon in Georgia. It has bright pink feathers and a rounded bill that looks like a spoon, making it one of North America’s most unusual looking birds. On rare occasions, one might show up in the Atlanta area. PHOTO CREDIT: Charles Seabrook

Roseate Spoonbill puts Atlanta birders in the pink

I first saw roseate spoonbills on a January day some 25 years ago at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge near Cape Canaveral, Fla. The large, unusual wading birds lived up to their name — stunning pink feathers with a weird bill ending in a circle, like a spoon.

Their bright plumage gleamed in the morning sun as I watched them perform their courtship rituals in a salt marsh — a spectacular sight.

My next close encounter with roseate spoonbills was on a July day five years ago, when I was driving on Jekyll Island’s causeway and flashes of brilliant pink suddenly appeared over my car. The pink, I knew, could only be that of roseate spoonbills.

I pulled over and was greeted with a breathtaking sight — a flock of roseate spoonbills foraging in the salt marsh. When they flew off, the afternoon sunlight glinted off their pink feathers.

Roseate spoonbills are coastal birds that are uncommon in Georgia — and anywhere else, for that matter. Their odd appearance, though, makes them unmistakable, distinctive.

You can imagine, then, the excitement among local birders when a rare roseate spoonbill shows up in the Atlanta area, as one did in early July at the Georgia Lane Wetlands/Big Creek Greenway in Alpharetta. As of earlier this week, the bird was still there.

It’s not the first time roseate spoonbills have appeared this far inland, but when they do, birders flock to see them.

The bird’s striking color almost caused its extinction in the 1800s when it was hunted for its pink feathers, which were used to make ladies’ fans and other items. Development around its rookeries also caused its numbers to plummet.

Roseate spoonbills, though, appear to be making a comeback, so we might be seeing more of them in Georgia.

IN THE SKY: From David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer: The moon will be last quarter on Monday. Mercury and Jupiter are low in the west around dusk. Venus rises in the east two hours before dawn and will appear near the moon next Saturday morning. Saturn is high in the east just after dark. Mars is not easily seen right now.

The Perseid meteor shower, which will be visible through Wednesday, reaches a peak of 50 meteors per hour this weekend — in the northeast from 2 a.m. until dawn.

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