National Geographic : 1987 Feb
Push comes to shove in a fight among males for dominance. As other birds hold their places, a male with crest belligerently erect (left, at center) drives off a rival from the top of a tree. In low stick nests built in lig num bushes in the shallows, parents take turns incubating three or four chalky white eggs. After about 25 days the eggs hatch helpless young, whose eyes, like kittens', are still closed (bottom right). Both parents brood, guard, and feed nestlings, relieving each other every four to five hours (above). Bright yellow patches over the eyes serve for more than decoration. Against the shiny, bare black skin, they could fool a predator into thinking that a sleeping spoonbill is wide eyed and awake. Voracious Australian ravens pose a major threat to spoonbill eggs and nestlings, while lace moni tors-four-foot-long lizards as at home in the water as on land-can be equally danger ous. Even so, alert parents can usually repel such predators. From June through August, the coolest part of the nonbreed ing season at Lake Cowal (map), royal spoonbills disperse to warmer climes, where they find food more available. Major droughts in their prin cipal Australian range force spoonbills to search afar for feeding areas. This may explain why satellite groups have become established on New Zealand's South Island, 1,500 miles distant, as well as in New Guinea and Indonesia.