Author: Ranger Frances Cassarino and photos by Ian McDonald
This July, we have an exciting new visitor at Lake Norman State Park!
Local birder Ian McDonald sent us photos of a roseate spoonbill, Platalea ajaja, he spotted at the park. This beautiful pink bird — the only species of spoonbill found in the Americas — is commonly seen further south along the coastal areas of Florida, Texas and Louisiana but has been known to stray north after its breeding season in the spring. Most reports in North Carolina, however, were mostly on the coast, with very rare sightings inland. According to the North Carolina Biodiversity Project, reports of this species in the Piedmont has grown since 2018, but this is the first time that the roseate spoonbill has been reported at Lake Norman State Park.
The roseate spoonbill can be seen foraging in shallow waters with their spoon-shaped bill partially open to try to catch macroinvertebrates. Its diet is what it gives it the pink hue, similar to a flamingo. Plants, algae, fungi and bacteria contain a pigment called carotenoid — the same one found in carrots, pumpkins and tomatoes — and as the spoonbill's body metabolizes the pigment, turning its feathers pink. This unique color almost made the species extinct in the 1700s to 1800s, as they were hunted for their plumes to put on hats, fans and other items. Though conservation laws have since protected the birds, they are still threatened by a loss of feeding and breeding habitat due to water quality and pollution.
At Lake Norman, the spoonbill has been seen up Norwood Creek and hanging out in Park Lake. Stop by the visitor center to rent a kayak or canoe to paddle out into Park Lake and try to look for it!