If you've ever watched roseate spoonbills feeding along the shallow waters of the coast, or noticed their crimson wings flash brilliantly against an ice-blue sky, you'd know that their name is well-deserved. Spending time in Texas and traveling the entire length of the Gulf Coast shoreline, I've been privileged to spot hundreds of spoonbills since I began watching birds decades ago. But those numerous sightings would not have occurred during the first half of the 20th century. Spoonbills had reached an all-time low in the late 30s, partially because of the Plume Wars. Once the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 went into effect, many bird species that had fallen victim to the demands of the millinery trade, rebounded. The spoonbills, especially the populations in Florida did not. The National Audubon Society's president, John Baker, sent ornithologist Robert Porter Allen to Florida to investigate. Soon after his arrival, Allen discovered that many locals considered the spoonbill an easy target to add to the cooking pot. He worked diligently to change the attitudes of locals, but he also realized that the bird's population decline was due to a much great problem. After his second year of observing hundreds of spoonbills, studying their behavior, habitats, and variation in plumage color, Allen concluded that:
|Rockport, Texas 2009|
"The chief reason the Roseate Spoonbill does not increase in Florida is
the failure of breeding adults to reach the mainland in large numbers in a
spring migration.” Robert Porter Allen.
Before Allen could figure out the reason why so few spoonbills migrated north, WWII broke out and he enlisted in the Army. By the time he was discharged, the whooping cranes were in dire straights, much more so than the spoonbills. Baker assigned the task of saving this severely endangered species to Allen. He worked on the project for the better part of his career.
By the mid-1950s, the spoonbill colonies had increased seven fold since Allen's arrival in Florida in 1939. The reason for their increased was never fully understood. But migrate north, they did, to the point where they had become a common sight along the roadsides in the winter. More and more tourists were visiting the Keys. Local restaurants, motels, RV parks, and boating and fishing services distributed the Upper Keys Chamber of Commerce new visitor's brochure, which pictured the spoonbill on its cover. The pink curlews, as the locals called them, had earned their place in the Keys as the "star attraction."
For more information on Robert Porter Allen and his work, be sure to check out my biography: The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story scheduled for released on September 16 by University Press of Florida.