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the web of life in southern Africa

Platalea alba (African spoonbill)

Lepelaar [Afrikaans]; iNkenkane, isiXulamasele [Zulu]; Molomo-khaba [South Sotho]; Afrikaanse lepelaar [Dutch]; Spatule d'Afrique [French]; Afrikanischer löffler [German]; Colhereiro-africano [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Ciconiiformes > Family: Threskiornithidae

Platalea alba (African spoonbill)

African spoonbill, Rondevlei Bird Sancutary, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

African spoonbill. [photo Duncan Robertson ©] African spoonbill. [photo Jeff Poklen ©]

Distribution and habitat

Occurs in a narrow horizontal band from Senegal to Ethiopia, extending south through Uganda, Kenya, eastern DRC, Tanzania, Zambia and Angola to South Afric. It can occupy almost any shallow water body, generally preferring the margins of rivers or lakes, pans, marshes, flood plains, sewage works, dams, coastal estuaries and lagoons; it mainly breeds in swamps with stands of sedges (Juncus) and reeds (Phragmites).

Distribution of African spoonbill in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Predators and parasites

Its chicks and eggs have been recorded as prey of Corvus splendens (House crow).

Movements and migrations

Nomadic, as it moves in response to rainfall and habitat availability.


It mainly eats small fish and aquatic invertebrates, foraging by wading through the water while sweeping its bill from side to side, snapping prey up instinctively when its bill makes contact. Its oddly-shaped bill is adapted for this technique, as the spoon shape makes it easier it to grab slippery prey. It also follows Nile crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus) and Hippopotamuses (Hippopotamus amphibius), catching animals they disturb.


  • Mainly monogamous, although males often attempt to copulate other females, nesting in colonies of 5-20, occasionally up to 150-200 pairs. Other water birds frequently join the colonies, such as African darters and herons.
  • The nest is built solely by the female with material brought by the male, consisting of a flat oval structure of sticks, creepers, reeds and twigs, sometimes lined with grass. It is typically placed on a partially submerged tree, bush, reedbed or rocky islet.
  • Egg-laying season is mainly from July-November in southern Africa, although in Botswana and Namibia it is from February-August.
  • It lays 2-4 eggs, which are incubated by both sexes for about 25-29 days.
  • The chicks are fed by both parents by regurgitation, wandering around the vicinity the nest from 21 days old and leaving the colony completely at about five weeks old.


Not threatened.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.