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Struggling roseate spoonbills in South Florida may spell trouble for the entire Everglades ecosystem.

 

Audubon field biologists like Mac Stone (wearing a bandana to shield his face from bugs) regularly monitor scores of tiny mangrove islands in Florida Bay as part of a century-long effort to track local spoonbill populations, which are currently in decline.

Photograph by John Huba

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Struggling roseate spoonbills in South Florida may spell trouble for the entire Everglades ecosystem.

 

"Rose-coloured curlew," was John James Audubon's name for the roseate spoonbill. Roger Tory Peterson pronounced it "one of the most breathtaking of all the world's weirdest birds."

Photograph by John Huba

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Struggling roseate spoonbills in South Florida may spell trouble for the entire Everglades ecosystem.

 

Audubon Florida’s state director of research Jerry Lorenz wades toward a nest. He uses a long pole equipped with a small mirror on top to peek inside and check on the status of the chicks.

Photograph by John Huba

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Struggling roseate spoonbills in South Florida may spell trouble for the entire Everglades ecosystem.

 

One of the world’s strangest-looking birds, roseate spoonbills have bald heads, red beady eyes, and a bill that looks better suited for cooking than feeding in a wetland. Naturalists refer to the striking deep-pink plumage roseate spoonbills display in breeding season as a “carmine drip.” 

Photograph by John Huba

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Struggling roseate spoonbills in South Florida may spell trouble for the entire Everglades ecosystem.

 

Florida Audubon biologist Michelle Robinson methodically sets fishnets specially designed to catch tiny, shallow-water killifish eaten by spoonbills. 

Photograph by John Huba

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Struggling roseate spoonbills in South Florida may spell trouble for the entire Everglades ecosystem.

 

Fish are vital food for spoonbills, which eat by tactile location, keeping their bills slightly open as they wave them back and forth through the water. When they hit a fish, the bill snaps shut.

Photograph by John Huba

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Struggling roseate spoonbills in South Florida may spell trouble for the entire Everglades ecosystem.

 

Spoonbills nest above the water in the low canopy of red mangroves. Biologists must climb over the trees’ giant prop roots and through thick mud to survey how many of the birds are present on dozens of islands spread throughout Bay.

Photograph by John Huba

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Struggling roseate spoonbills in South Florida may spell trouble for the entire Everglades ecosystem.

 

Roughly three years after hatching, spoonbills develop the stunningly pink plumage, which is most dramatic during the mating season. Their loping wings make a woof, woof sound as they cruise over a marsh.

Photograph by John Huba

COLOR GUARD

Struggling roseate spoonbills in South Florida may spell trouble for the entire Everglades ecosystem.

 

Spoonbills weave sticks into loosely formed nests. In just eight to ten weeks the tiny chicks are full-grown.

Photograph by John Huba

COLOR GUARD

Struggling roseate spoonbills in South Florida may spell trouble for the entire Everglades ecosystem.

 

After a long day of checking spoonbill nests, biologist Mac Stone paddles out of the marsh.

Photograph by John Huba