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Another rarity shows up: A roseate spoonbill

Taylor Piephoff
Taylor Piephoff Observer file photo

Mecklenburg County is on a bird-listing roll! For the third time in a little over three months a new species has been added to the county list. Last Sunday I received photos of a roseate spoonbill from a small, non-descript pond right in town in Davidson, NC. I was out of town, but I immediately alerted the local birding community, and many were able to get over to Beaty Road the same day to enjoy the bird.

The next day the bird was seen in the early morning but by noon it had departed, depriving me of the chance to see it for myself. I hate it when that happens. A photo of the actual bird is pictured today. Note the paleness of the bird instead of the characteristic deep pink the species is known for. This is due to it being an immature bird and to the lack of shrimp in it’s diet. Shrimp give the deep pink color to the plumage.

With that deep pink plumage, large size, and odd-shaped bill, roseate spoonbills are one of the iconic birds of south Florida. Away from Florida, roseate spoonbills are considered rare anywhere in North Carolina and especially so at inland locations. Their occurrences are increasing over the last decade or so however — in fact, I had the species on my short list of predicted next Mecklenburg County additions. I have seen many in Florida, several in Brunswick County in coastal North Carolina, and one at Lake Twitty in Union County. I chased roseate spoonbills at the coast several times with no success until I hit it right at Sunset Beach. It wasn’t long after that when the Lake Twitty bird showed up 20 minutes from my house. Unfortunately, I will have to wait to add it to my personal Mecklenburg County list though.

That this bird elected to put down at Beaty Pond in a residential area in Davidson illustrates that rare, wayward birds can and do show up anywhere, anytime. Any random pond, field, or feeder can draw a real rarity.

The large pink wader’s appearance also highlights the beginning of the annual post-breeding dispersal of southern herons, egrets, spoonbills, and storks north into the piedmont of the Carolinas. Some years it is more pronounced than others; perhaps this is an omen that we are in for an active summer of large conspicuous waders. Maybe another spoonbill will follow.

Taylor Piephoff is a naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com.