Sunday, August 4, 2013

Really Weird Birds: The Shoebill Stork

Shoebill storks are native to East-Central Africa.  They favor freshwater swamps and dense marshes where they eat fish, young waterfowl, amphibians, and small reptiles – including baby crocodiles!  

These birds are very prehistoric-looking and have a very unusual beak!  It can be up to twelve inches long and five inches wide and it resembles the shape of a wooden shoe.
The beak resembles the shape of a wooden shoe
Shoebills are fairly large birds, with some reaching up to five feet in height with a wingspan of seven to eight feet in length.  They are quite solitary birds; even a mating pair will often forage at separate ends of their territory.  The monogamous pair builds a grassy nest on a floating platform of vegetation, up to nine feet wide, often amid dense stands of Papyrus, which is similar to reeds in our country.  The female lays up to three eggs but usually only one hatchling will survive.  The younger chicks are considered to be back-ups in case the eldest chick doesn’t survive.  Both parents will help to feed and protect their young.  They become reproductively mature at three to four years old and can live up to thirty-six years in captivity.

Some Shoebills may reach up to five feet in height
The Shoebill Stork is mostly an ambush predator.  They stand absolutely still waiting for prey.  Sometimes they will wade through the marsh very slowly in search of their next meal.  Once prey is spotted they can move with amazing speed and power.  The hook at the end of their large beak helps to grip and crush.  Click here to see some amazing footage of a Shoebill Stork hunting lungfish!  Their very large feet are well adapted for standing and walking on aquatic vegetation while hunting.  Their middle toe measures up to seven inches in length!

Shoebills are listed as a vulnerable species by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.  Their population is declining because of habitat loss, hunting, and capture for the black market bird trade.  Their habitat is being destroyed in order to create farmland and pasture.  These birds are also hunted for food in some countries and their eggs are collected and sold as food or to zoos or collectors.  Capture and sale of these birds is a problem, especially in Tanzania, where trading of the species is still legal.  In Zambia, fire and drought threaten shoebill habitat, and nests are often crushed by large herbivores foraging in the swamps.

If you want to help endangered birds, part of the World Bird Sanctuary’s mission is to secure the future of threatened bird species in their natural environments.  You can help us fulfill that mission by simply visiting us and spreading what you’ve learned, becoming a member or friend, or adopting-a-bird and feeding that bird for a year!

Submitted by Sara Oliver, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

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