The Royal Spoonbill - Platalea regia - is a tall bird with white plumage, black legs and black face. Long black bill tapers to a wide, flat tip which the bird holds slightly opened sweeping from side to side in broad arcs while walking fairly quickly through wetland shallows; when the inside of the broad beak touches any creature in the mud or the water the beak snaps shut.
Breeding adults have white plumes from the back of the head as well as a yellow mark over each eye and a red patch on the forehead. Females are similar to males but slightly smaller. Juveniles have shorter bills and black wing tips visible in flight. Grows 75 to 80 centimetres.
This is a distinctive bird with a prominent long black bill with spoon-shaped end. The bill upper surface is covered in broad wrinkles. Legs and feet are also black. Male and female are similar in appearance.
Lives in shallow wetlands and fresh or saline swamps and flooded pastures; also in coastal lagoons and mangroves. Inhabits any body of shallow water, salt or fresh, large or small. Found over all of mainland Australia, except for the arid interior, mainly Western Australia. Rarely seen in Tasmania.
Breeds from October to May. The female Royal Spoonbill selects a display branch near a nesting site and initially responds aggressively to any approaching male by flapping her wings, opening her bill and pecking towards the male. The male tries to nibble at her bill and when he succeeds the pair has been formed. The pair raise their nuptial plumes into a fan if other birds come near and the intruder retreats. The female walks or flies towards the nest site and the male collects sticks which she forms into a shallow nest of sticks on bushes or trees up to 9 metres high, usually above water. Royal Spoonbills nest singly or in loose colonies with other spoonbills, ibis, darters and small cormorants.
Up to four eggs are laid; dull white with brown spots or streaks; oblong-oval in shape, about 65 by 45 millimetres in size. Both parents incubate the eggs.
In nesting colonies at least one bird is always on guard duty and gives a warning call if danger is seen. This prompts most sitting birds to flee their nest until the danger has passed. In the early stages of incubation disturbed birds may not return to their nests.