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An increasingly familar sight in Poole Harbour; larger than the little egret and with a distinctive bill.


Photograph by: 
Ian Ballam

Spoonbill: will they wont they?

Post date: Wednesday, 4 February, 2015 - 00:00

Will they, won't they, start to nest near Poole Harbour?  

I am sure we are all aware of how the little egret has spread as a nesting species in this country in the last twenty or so years and that raises the question; will its cousin, the spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia), follow suit? Spoonbills actually nest quite nearby in Holland and a pair have bred in Somerset recently so the prospects are good. 
In Poole we have had wintering birds in recent years spending a lot of time on Brownsea Lagoon and at Middlebere Lake. In 2008 six young birds stayed in the area all year and raised hopes they would start to nest but the following they spring they disappeared.  There now seems to be a small colony almost resident in Poole Harbour and the numbers wintering here continue to grow. So we wait to see if they settle and breed.


Spoonbill in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Post date: Wednesday, 5 December, 2018 - 13:28

In the last ten years spoonbill have become something of a permanent feature in Dorset having been very scarce prior to that. I wrote some time ago that " In 2008 six young birds stayed in the area all year" and at that time there was great anticipation that they might start to breed here but, as far as I am aware, despite regular birds here and in good numbers too I believe we are still waiting! They have started to nest elsewhere in the UK I believe so perhaps it is just a matter of time.

There were more tweeted reports of spoonbill in 2017 than in 2018 but this just could be that they are just becoming accepted as part of the native fauna now and not always worth reporting, I certainly don't think they are in decline although the significant numbers reported in the winter of 2017/8 have yet to be matched this year. On the 17th October 2017 there were 60 on the lagoon on Brownsea alone and there probably others present in the harbour elsewhere. So far this winter I think the highest count I have seen mentioned is 36 at Arne in November 2018

The spoonbill is certainly a resident species now with reports from somewhere every week but the number of reports increases in the autumn so the numbers here in the summer are certainly boosted by arrivals from elsewhere for the winter months. As spoonbills can be found just across the North Sea in Holland, Germany and Denmark, and they are known to be a migratory species, it seems quite likely that a 'short' hop across to Dorset is preferable to the long trek south to the Mediterranean or even into Africa.

The distribution map shows them clustered around Christchurch harbour, Poole harbour and the Fleet but the biggest population is undoubtedly to be found at sites in Poole harbour with Lytchett Bay, Arne and Brownsea the leading reporting areas. Elsewhere it seems just the odd one turns up every now and then, possibly migrants just dropping in for a quick snack before continuing onwards with their journey.

To see spoonbill the best option is to head for the Shipstall hide at RSPB Arne where a good number often congregate on the spit there at high tide. If they are not there then head to the Middlebere hide as they could be there feeding in the channel at low tide.


The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Sites List Distribution Map Some Charts Some Photographs Original Tweets Relatives Guidance Notes
Common Name Spoonbill
Scientific Name Platalea leucorodia
Status Local
Interest Level
Species Family Herons, Egrets and Bitterns
  • 01 - January
  • 02 - February
  • 03 - March
  • 04 - April
  • 05 - May
  • 06 - June
  • 07 - July
  • 08 - August
  • 09 - September
  • 10 - October
  • 11 - November
  • 12 - December
Preferred Environment
  • Mudflats
Look for The enormous spoon shaped bill
Additional Identification Notes
  • Poole harbour is now one of the best place in the UK to see the spoonbill which is certainly increasing in numbers here
  • From a distance might be written off as a little egret but they are bigger, stockier birds
  • The yellowish/orange spoon shaped bill tells it apart from all other species 
Similar Species