Unlike the Owl and Pussycat though they do not dine on ‘mince and slices of quince’ nor do they catch Spotted Frogs for their dinner like the Dolomphious Duck! However Edward Lear’s poetry is clearly the inspiration behind the creation of this collective noun for describing a group of Spoonbills. Not only did he invent the word but his sketch of the Dolomphious Duck with her runcible spoon looks remarkably similar to a Spoonbill. Other terms that are in use include a canteen, a service and a sedge but after seeing this sketch I think my favourite has to be runcible.
Occasionally I have confused them with Egrets because of their size and white plumage, but only when they are at a distance! Egrets also have a habit of following Spoonbills as they feed which is my other excuse for the occasional confusion. However when a Spoonbill is close-up or facing you their incredible ‘spatula’ or should I say ‘runcible spoon’ bill makes them unmistakable.
They feed by sweeping that amazing bill from side to side as they wade through water, usually shallow although we have seen them in deeper waters. The moment any small aquatic creature – insect, crustacean or even small fish – touches the inside of the bill it is snapped shut. Although as you will see from my husband’s video sometimes it takes a while to swallow, I think it must have been quite a large something this one had captured.
There are six species of Spoonbill and it is the European Spoonbill we see in Portugal and you might occasionally see in the UK.
Their Portuguese name is Colhereiro, and whilst some are resident year round the numbers increase significantly in the winter when they are joined by migratory Spoonbills from eastern Europe. The Algarve is considered one of the best places to observe them and we certainly have seen them quite a bit. However we can go days without seeing them, and then suddenly after wondering where they have all gone there is a whole runcible in the lagoon. They are fun to watch, but must admit it is their south american counterpart I would love to see – the Roseate Spoonbill. Just imagine that beak attached to a pink body!