Detroit Zoo African Spoonbill

African spoonbill

At the Detroit Zoo
Visitors can experience these white-feathered characters – including Ugly Betty, Elmer, Diego, A.D. and Fantasia – in their African waterhole habitat from April through early October.  Look for pair bonding (mutual preening and other ritual courtship behaviors) to identify established mated pairs such as Ugly Betty and Elmer.  The African spoonbills at the Detroit Zoo are known for their dramatic social structure and clever antics.  These birds are prone to greedy and even immoral behavior – at least by human standards – as they often pilfer each other’s nesting materials, eggs and even mates, then proceed to have squawking arguments about the disputed possessions. Despite these squabbles, 20 chicks have been reared at the Detroit Zoo since its first successful chick rearing in 2001.  That makes the Zoo’s breeding program the only successful indoor breeding program for African spoonbills and one of the most productive spoonbill propagation programs in the country.


This bird has long, red legs, a white body and a red face and bill. The beak is shaped like a spoon, thus the name.


Scientific name: Platalea alba
Continent: Africa
Habitat: Shallow inland waters, river banks and marshes
Size: About 3 feet tall
Weight: Around 4.5 pounds
Diet: Mainly fish and small crustaceans
Reproduction: Incubation up to 29 days; three to five eggs

Lifespan: 25-30 years
Conservation Status: Least Concern 



The African spoonbill sweeps the bottom of rivers with its wide bill for food.