In 2004, Jerry Lorenz, Ph.D., Research Director for Audubon’s Everglades Science Center, and the Florida Coastal Islands Sanctuaries team in Tampa Bay carefully weighed and measured a Roseate Spoonbill chick. Temporarily plucked from its nest along the Gulf Coast of Florida, Audubon staff gave the baby bird a red, metal leg tag emblazoned with two digits: 43.
16 years later, that very same spoonbill has been spotted where it originally hatched: Alafia Bank Bird Sanctuary.
“It’s both astonishing and reassuring to know that at least one of the spoonbill chicks we banded in 2004 is alive and back at its natal colony site,” says Marianne Korosy, Ph.D. Once part of that first banding team in Tampa Bay, she is now Audubon’s Director of Bird Conservation.
“Spoonbill 43 confirms the longevity of this species,” Dr. Korosy continues, “and is the second oldest spoonbill ever recorded.”
At the turn of the 20th century, the unique pink plumage of the Roseate Spoonbills nearly vanished from Florida’s landscape. Decimated by hunters, the wading species rebounded only after federal protections kept their colonies safe. Now, Audubon Florida science showcases how far the spoonbill populations have come, and how far they still need to go.
Audubon's Everglades Science Center (ESC) was established in the Florida Keys in 1939, and staff began Audubon’s 75-plus year history of investigating the spoonbill, its nesting sites, and its habitat needs.
The long-term banding study provides critical life history data not only for individual spoonbills like 43, but also showcases how populations are shifting over time. More than 3,000 birds have been banded thus far.
“To date, we have received about 1,600 reported resightings,” Dr. Lorenz explains, “There are many duplicate sightings, so this doesn’t mean 1,600 separate birds were reported.”
According to ESC research, spoonbill nests are shifting northward to escape habitat destruction in the Keys, as well as poorly timed water releases in the Everglades.
Dr. Lorenz adds: “If anyone spots a Roseate Spoonbill with a band on its leg, they should report it here. If they see a spoonbill without a band, enjoy the view!”