This is a photo from a trip to Merritt Island. These birds are pure white when they hatch, and develop their pink color later, but their bodies don't produce the pink pigments. Where do these pigments come from?


Roseate Spoonbills get the red pigment from their food, but just eating shrimp and other crustaceans is not enough. First, those crustaceans have to eat algae that contains the right pigments, in this case, alpha and beta caratenoids. The Spoonbill's liver secretes enzymes that break down the caratenoids, bonding them to fats and changing their color to bright red or orange. These pigments are then deposited in the feathers. If the Roseate Spoonbill does not get food that contains the right caratenoids, when it molts, the new feathers will be white.