All have large, flat, spatulate bills and feed by wading through shallow water, sweeping the partly-opened bill from side to side. The moment any small aquatic creature touches the inside of the bill—an insect, crustacean, or tiny fish—it is snapped shut. Spoonbills generally prefer fresh water to salt but are found in both environments. They need to feed many hours each day.
Spoonbills are monogamous, but, so far as is known, only for one season at a time. Most species nest in trees or reed-beds, often with ibises or herons.