This fascinating prehistoric-looking bird lives in Africa’s freshwater swamps and marshes and can be found in Murchison Falls, Uganda, Akagera in eastern Rwanda and the Benguela Swamps in Zambia.
Known as the Shoebill Stork for their large, powerful foot-long shoe-shaped beak, they’re capable of gobbling up small prey whole. Shoebills also use their beak’s sharp-pointed hook to stab their prey. These impressive birds are as patient as they are brave, waiting for hours for their prey to surface before they strike, even attacking baby crocodiles!
Shoebills will stay motionless for hours, waiting patiently in the water until their prey comes up for air. This technique is known as “collapsing” as the shoebill suddenly comes to life and drops down at its victim.
Listed as vulnerable on the IUCN’s (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Red List, it is estimated that there are fewer than 5,300 adult shoebills left in the world, and sadly, that figure is on the decline.
As is all too frequently the case, their natural habitat has been dramatically impacted over the years as their land is repurposed for pasture. Other major threats come from those seeking to profit through the illegal live bird trade and they can also be hunted, as some African tribes consider them to be a bad omen.
Shoebill Stocks also don’t do themselves any favours on the survival front, as sibling rivalry takes a vicious turn with these birds. Shoebill chicks are completely dependent on their parents for water, food and care for the first 2 to 3 months of their little feathered lives. Sadly, their mother has no problem picking her favourite and leaving the other chick to die. It is well documented that shoebill chicks will turn on each other in a bid to gain their mother’s approval, simply to survive.
Should they be lucky, and mercenary, enough to make it to maturity, they are promptly booted out of the nest to make their way in life. They then move on seeking solitude, making their nests in swamp grass amongst floating vegetation, often in remote areas, seeking papyrus as it is strong and durable.
- Shoebills dine on lungfish, tilapia, eels, and snakes and even snack on baby crocodiles and Nile monitor lizards.
- They stand at five feet tall with an eight-foot wingspan and feet up to 18cm long!
- Shoebill chicks have a blue/grey down covering their bodies and a lighter coloured bill. As they mature their plumage grows darker.
- Shoebills have the slowest flap rate of any bird at 150 flaps per minute.
- When attracting a mate, shoebills clatter their bills which sounds like machine gunfire.
- Shoebill Storks are also known as whale-headed storks
- Their average lifespan in the wild is 35 years, reaching maturity at around 3 to 4 years old.
- When they mate, shoebills remain solitary, choosing to live and feed on opposite sides of their territory.
- The females then lay two eggs at the end of the rainy season with both parents tending to the eggs until they hatch.