CROW Case of the Week: Roseate Spoonbill (#18-4737)

A roseate spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) is one bird that is hard not to incorrectly distinguish. From its beautiful pink coloration to its spoon-shaped bill, this flamboyant water bird is a sight for sore eyes. In fact, the National Audubon Society describes the roseate spoonbill as “gorgeous at a distance and bizarre up close.” 

Interestingly, there are five other spoonbills (Eurasian, royal, African, blackfaced and yellow-billed) in the world, but the roseate is the only one found in the Americas. Their big bills sweep through shallow waters or sift through mud before snapping up fish and crustaceans. When swallowed, shrimp and other pink aquatic invertebrates through pigments called carotenoids give the roseate spoonbills their pinkish feather color. Did you know that roseate spoonbills actually go through a balding process as they get older? These wading birds lose feathers from the top of their heads as they age. 

At CROW, a juvenile roseate spoonbill – estimated to be under 2 years old based on its plumage – was admitted after being rescued near the entrance to the JN “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge’s Wildlife Drive. The bird was reportedly walking very slowly and not evading people that passed close to it.

Upon admission to the hospital, veterinarians noted the patient to have mild head tremors and that it was extremely wobbly when walking. These symptoms were consistent with brevetoxicosis, also known as red tide poisoning. 

While Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission officials have recently reported only background concentrations of red tide in Lee County, brevetoxicosis can remain in an animal for some time. 

“This varies depending upon the species and the individual’s ability to clear the toxin via their liver/kidneys or if they continue to eat contaminated food sources,” said Dr. Robin Bast, CROW staff veterinarian. “It can take anywhere from seven days to several weeks to clear the toxin while receiving treatment in our hospital.” 

The patient also had superficial abrasions on its wings at the carpal joints, likely from stumbling around in its wobbly state. The wounds were cleaned, blood samples taken for diagnostic testing and the bird was provided with fluids and offered food. 

“Initial in-house bloodwork was normal. We diagnosed brevetoxicosis based on clinical signs, but have not received the test results for this patient’s levels of the toxin yet,” said Dr. Bast when discussing the bird’s symptoms. Surprisingly, the roseate spoonbill made a quick turnaround and was able to be released on January 2 – just four days after admission. “Yes, this is one of the patients that has recovered the fastest,” said Dr. Bast. “This patient spent a short amount of time in an outdoor flight enclosure to ensure it was able to fly well enough for release.” 

Having a patient respond to care in such quick fashion is satisfying to CROW medical officials who like to get rehabilitated animals back into the wild. “Definitely,” replied Dr. Bast, “a speedy recovery is always great to see, so we can get them back out where they belong.” 


CROW Case of the Week stories are written by Bob Petcher and appear weekly in the Island Sun and River Weekly Newspapers.


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