Down here in Texas I was recently watching a very vibrant Roseate Spoonbill feeding and I couldn’t help but admire its gorgeous pink plumage. I asked a question that many have asked before and that I’m sure some of you can already answer; why are they so pink?
The answer, simply put is shrimp. Spoonbills eat shrimp, shrimp eat algae and algae produce red and yellow pigments called carotenoids. This shrimp gives the Spoonbills their pink coloration and the more shrimp they eat, they brighter they are. As the saying goes, you are what you eat; in this case, pink! This is also why Franklin’s Gulls and other species of gulls and terns will have pink on their chests when they arrive in Canada in the spring. Down south, they have been feeding up on carotenoid-rich prey which give them a little bit of pink.
But as the breeding season progresses, we notice less and less pink coloration because the pigment is broken down by the sun; pretty neat!
By the time I took this photo, in June, most of the Franklin’s Gull’s pink has faded.
So next time you see a Franklin’s Gull or another species with a rose colored wash on its chest, think carotenoids!