Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Roseate Spoonbill - Platalea ajaja
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General Comments Hardly any bird is more easily identified than the Roseate Spoonbill. This tropical breeder nests northward only to central Florida (and for the first time in Georgia in 2011) and is now seen annually in North Carolina. Observations and numbers of birds have greatly increased in recent years, and counts (of post-breeding birds) in coastal SC since 2000 have reached well into double figures, including triple digits at the Savannah Spoil Site. Since then, a few are reported nearly each year in NC; and, the species is starting to be seen well inland in the state. In late spring and early summer 2018, starting immediately following the passage of Tropical Storm Alberto in early June, there was a literal "flood" of spoonbills into all parts of the state, including the first ever in the mountains; there was actually a surge of coastal records in late May, suggesting a major northbound post-breeding movement was already underway before the storm hit the Gulf Coast. Spoonbill sightings in NC have been somewhat equally divided between salt and fresh waters. It may be seen on both salt water creeks and channels in marshes and at coastal impoundments. It has now been found breeding in SC (though just one pair), but perhaps it will one day start nesting in NC.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SZ
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Post-breeding visitor and stray, mostly to the coast; greatly increasing in recent years. Very rare to (now) rare along the southern coast (mainly Brunswick and New Hanover), very rare (but increasing) farther northward. Most frequent from mid-Jul to late Aug, but scattered records from mid-May to late Sep; also, 1, Smith Island (Brunswick), 15 Apr 1919. At least nine inland records: two in northeastern Duplin from 13-17 Jun 2009; two near Trenton (Jones) on 15 Jul 2009; one photographed at a small pond near Plymouth (Washington) on 21 Jun 2017; one at Morgan Futch Game Land (Tyrrell) from 6-13 Jun 2018; one at Greenville (Pitt) on 7 Sep 2018; one at Mattamuskeet NWR (Hyde), 28 Jun into Aug 2020; and 4 along the Waccamaw River (Columbus), 20 Jul 2020. Peak counts: 28, Twin Lakes in Sunset Beach (Brunswick), 26 Sep 2021; 17, New River Inlet (Onslow), 31 Aug 2021; 13, Twin Lakes in Sunset Beach (Brunswick), 12 Jul 2021; 12, Copas Lake (Brunswick), 20 Aug 2020; 9, Pea Island NWR, 5 Jul 2009; 9, Bald Head Island (Brunswick), 18 Aug 2018; 8, New River Inlet (Onslow), 21 Jul 2021. Perhaps the only winter record for the state was of two photographed near Plymouth (Martin), well inland, on 1 Dec 2021; this is the first day that "qualifies" for winter season status.
Piedmont Formerly accidental to casual, but now very rare and increasing, post-breeding visitor, with seven known records until an explosion of records in 2018. One was seen at Lake Twitty (Union) from late Aug to 24 Sep 2006* [Chat 71:15 link]; one was seen at Riverbend Park (Catawba) on 11-12 Aug 2009* [Chat 74:20 link]; one was seen at Lake Townsend (Guilford) on 14 Sep 2009* [Chat 78:8-13 link]; one was seen at Tryon (Polk) on 20 Jul 2013 [Chat 77:151 link]; one was at Jordan Lake, 16-27 Aug 2017; one was at Beaverdam Reservoir (Wake), 8 Sep 2017; and one at Jordan Lake, 17-24 Sep 2017. The latter three records could relate to just one or two birds. In late spring and summer 2018, one was noted at Davidson (Mecklenburg), 27-28 May; one at Lake Tillery (Stanly), 8 Jul; two in northern Raleigh (Wake), 15 Jun - 8 Jul; three at Jordan Lake (Durham and Chatham), 8-31 Jul; one at Lake Townsend (Guilford), 24-25 Jul; and two at Lake Crabtree (Wake), 24-25 Jul. One was at the Coddle Creek Reservoir (Cabarrus), 2-5 Aug 2018; and rather late was one at Raleigh, 7 Oct 2018. An additional three records were made in Jun-Jul 2020, and numerous records were made from late May onward in 2021. Peak counts: 5, Catawba River (Mecklenburg), 13-18 Jul 2021; 5, Brier Creek Reservoir (Wake), 14 Aug 2021; 3-5, Lake Fisher (Rowan), 21 Aug - 3 Oct 2021; 4, Lake Twitty (Union), 26 Jul 2021.
Mountains Casual post-breeding visitor, with all records from 2018 [Chat 82:112 link]. Singles were seen on the French Broad River (Henderson) on 3 Jun, and at Hap Simpson Park (Transylvania) on 7 Jun; and up to three were in wetlands along North Rugby Road (Henderson) from 15-31 Jul.
Finding Tips Increasing annually now, and can now be tracked down to see, as some have lingered for a while, especially along the southern coast. Typically, a bird is seen in shallow tidal water, such as near an inlet or at tidal flats. A few birds have appeared at impoundments and other coastal freshwater sites. Your best bet is to search the two lakes at Twin Lakes in Sunset Beach in late summer, as well as nearby tidal creeks in western and central Brunswick County.
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Attribution LeGrand[2022-04-27], LeGrand[2022-02-09], LeGrand[2021-11-07]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
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