All About the Black-Faced Spoonbill: The Monochrome Bird

All About the Black-faced Spoonbill

Photo: EarnestTse via Getty Images

Threskiornithidae, a family of ibis and spoonbills, is home to the black-faced spoonbill (Platalea minor). Of the six spoonbill species, this one has the most restricted range and is the only one that is considered endangered. Spoonbills are big waterfowl with spatulate bills that are flattened.

It appears to have formerly been widespread across its distribution region, which is now restricted to the coasts of eastern Asia. For the time being, it breeds solely on the west coast of North Korea on a handful of tiny rocky islands, with four wintering locations in Hong Kong (Macau), Taiwan (Taiwan), and Vietnam (Vietnam).

Description and Appearance

All About the Black-faced Spoonbill

Photo: HuoyiZhang via Getty Images

One of the giant birds of prey globally, the black-faced spoonbill has white plumage with a dark gray or black bill, hence earning its name. For this reason, the term refers to the color of the skin on the face.

One spoonbill measures 76cm in height and weighs 1kg. Their white wings are black at the tips. They have a long, flat beak like a spoon or the Chinese instrument pi-pa.

The spoonbills’ infants and toddlers are a light brownish-pink color. The beautiful Gage Beasley's Black-faced Spoonbill Bird Soft Stuffed Plush Toy would bring your little one so much plushness and comfort.

Gage Beasley's Black-faced Spoonbill Soft Stuffed Push Toy


It feeds on tiny fish and shrimp in ponds and estuaries where it lives in the shallow coastal waters. A spoonbill has a unique technique of grabbing its prey. They use their spoon-shaped beak to catch prey, which they move from side to side as they swim through the water. Cats, raccoons, and perhaps even great eagle owls are predators of black-faced spoonbills.

They feed by wading in the water and swiping their beaks across the surface, searching for food. These birds also feed on intertidal mudflats at night.


The population of black-faced spoonbills reduced in the 1990s, but by 2003 it had risen to at least 1,069 individuals counted. A polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique on DNA samples has allowed researchers to use another method to correctly sex adult spoonbill specimens, despite the bird's breeding area covering northeastern China and many islands between North and South Korea.

Black-faced spoonbills return from their wintering places with yellow breeding plumage that spreads from the back of their heads to their breasts after returning from their migration. Black-billed spoonbills with this plumage, which only emerges in the third or fourth year of life when they are sexually mature, mate only about half of each mating season. Hence, resulting in a modest population increase.

This species' mating season runs from March to August. When a bird reaches the age of five, it begins to reproduce. Two to three eggs are laid in a twig nest made after mating. The female is primarily responsible for incubation, but the males may provide a hand when necessary. Both parents take excellent care of their newly hatched chicks when they emerge from their eggs. After four to six weeks, they can fend for themselves.


The East Asian coast is home to the black-faced spoonbill. From March to September, this wading bird's breeding season occurs on the western shores of the Korean Peninsula. This comprises rocky islands off the coast of North Korea and China's Liaoning province.

The DMZ, which separates North and South Korea, is their most well-known breeding location, with human access restricted. Macau, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, South Korea, Japan, and the Pearl River Delta are among the species' wintering grounds. In addition, Thailand and the Philippines have reported seeing them.

Wet rice paddies, fish ponds, and coastal locations are all places where you can find the black-face spoonbill. Other places where the birds spend the winter include Jeju, South Korea; the Japanese islands of Kyushu and Okinawa; and Vietnam's Red River delta.


All About the Black-faced Spoonbill

Photo: kynny via Getty Images

There is a national wildlife park at Jiuduansha off Shanghai where the bird makes a stopover, protected by China's Red Data Book.

As a result, their nesting islands off the coast of North Korea have been designated a Zone of Protection with limited access. Some risks exist, particularly in the wintering areas. Taiwan's wintering locations have a high demand for industrial land. At the same time, Vietnam is converted to shrimp farming despite being within a Ramsar-protected reserve.

Due to an increase in spoonbills (from a minimum of 191 birds in 1991/92 to a minimum of 840 in 2004/2005), these birds have lately become threatened. Large-scale conservation is essential to the survival of black-faced spoonbills.

Fishers and shell gatherers in Hong Kong frequently obstruct the feeding of seabirds during low tide. Furthermore, pollution will likely become a significant issue in the East Asian region due to the region's continuous population growth. The black-faced spoonbills are also vulnerable to disease, which can cause them to go extinct. Avian botulism claimed the lives of 73 birds in the winter of 2002/2003. In order to prevent illness from decimating the bird population, it may be essential to create extra protection zones or reserves.

In South Korea, the black-faced spoonbill is a first-class endangered species and a natural monument.

According to recent sightings reports, the black-faced spoonbill has lately been seen in Thailand, the Philippines, and many other locations in China. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), they were declared endangered in 2000. The quantity of deforestation, pollution, and other man-made enterprises is expected to decrease their number.

According to the 2012 census, there were 2,693 black-faced spoonbills present, with an estimated mature population of 1,600. Breeding colonies are found on tiny islands in the spring and summer months.

Other Interesting Facts

  • These birds are most closely related to Royal Spoonbills.
  • The Black-faced Spoonbill is the only spoonbill that is critically endangered and has a very restricted geographic range.
  • Spatulate beaks and a side-to-side motion of the beaks help them discover prey.
  • The term "bowl of spoonbills" refers to a group of spoonbills.

Final Thoughts

The Black-faced Spoonbill is at risk of extinction because of its limited global population. 

Conservation of their hatching habitats, the availability of unpolluted coastal wetlands rich in food in their known wintering range, and the avoidance of potentially lethal viruses or infections are all critical to their long-term survival.



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