8 facts about the shoebill stork

8 facts about the shoebill stork: The shoebill stork is a highly sought after bird by most birding tourists in Uganda. Birding tours in Uganda have increased of the recent years, with the shoebill being at the top of the birders’ list. The shoebill is a rare bird to sight as it mostly inhabits fresh swamps of tropical African countries like; Uganda, South Sudan, eastern Congo, Rwanda, western Tanzania, and northern Zambia to mention but a few.

In this article, we clearly highlight some unique facts about the Shoebill Stork that you might find interesting to know;

  1. Physical description.

The Shoebill stork derives its name from its huge shoe-shaped beak or bill. This bird is also referred to by other names such as the whale-head, whale-headed stork, or shoe-billed stork. An adult male Shoebill stork is mainly grey while the juveniles are browner. Shoebill storks have long feet that reach about 18cm, and they can reach a height of 4 to 5 feet when standing on two legs. A mature female shoebill stork can weigh about 6kg while a male shoebill can weigh about 5kg, which is about 12 pounds. Shoebill storks have sharp edges in their mandibles to help them decapitate or tear their prey, and also discard any vegetation after catching their prey.

  1. Gestation Period of the Shoebill Stork.

A shoebill stork has a gestation period of 30 days. A female shoebill stork can lay between one to three eggs which measure between 80 to 90 mm high, 56 to 61 mm wide and weigh approximately 164 grams. The female lays its eggs in a nest measuring about 1 to 1.7 meters wide, and can reach 3 meters deep. Both parents take part in building the nest on a floating platform. Once the chicks hatch, they are catered for by their parents until they are around 105 days when they are able to fledge. Young shoebill storks reach sexual maturity at the age of 3 years.

  1. Life Span of the Shoebill Stork.

Shoebill storks have a longer life span as compared to other birds. The life span of a shoebill stork can go between 35 to 50 years.

  1. Habitat of a Shoebill stork.

The Shoebill stork is endemic to the African Continent. Shoebills are aquatic birds that predominantly inhabit freshwater swamps in central and eastern African countries mainly; southern Sudan, South Sudan, eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, western Tanzania, and northern parts of Zambia. However, few sights of the bird have been reported in Kenya, Ethiopia, Malawi, the Central African Republic, northern Cameroon, and Botswana. The shoebill stork is a non-migratory bird with very limited seasonal movements due to habitat changes, food availability and disturbance by humans.

The Shoebill stork is best sighted in Uganda which has a set record of about 1000 shoebills, and birders can best sight the bird in areas such as; Mabamba Swamp close to Lake Victoria, Lake Mburo national park, Queen Elizabeth national park with in the swamp in Ishasha sector, Semliki wildlife reserve, and Ziwa rhino sanctuary without forgetting Nabajuzi swamp in Masaka region and Bigodi Swamp near Kibale National Park. In fact Uganda is a birders paradise with very many unique and rare bird species in the world.

  1. Diet of the Shoebill Stork.

The diet of a Shoebill Stork is mainly comprised of water mammals such as; lung fish, mad fish, cat fish, eels, baby crocodiles, water snakes, tilapia, snails, Nile monitors, turtles, small waterfowl and even frogs. The shoebill stork uses a unique hunting technique called ‘freeze and seize’ to catch their prey.

  1. Behavior/Mannerisms of the Shoebill Stork.

Shoebill storks are known to be silent birds and this helps them in capturing their prey as they hide silently and once a prey is seen, they jump once and grab it with their big shoe like beak. However in some cases, shoe bills have been heard making some sounds and gestures such as moo, head bobbing, bill-clapping and high-pitched whining for communication. This bird is known for its slow movements and tendency to stay still for long periods of time, thus the description of the species as ‘’statue-like.’’

Shoebill storks normally defecate on themselves which scientists have proved that they use their droppings to cool their bodies from heat and this has been confirmed as one of the behaviors of all storks.

Shoebill storks are known to be solitary bird species, and peacefully prefer living alone. Even hunting is done separately and the only time the male and female are seen together is during the mating season and after mating each bird moves separately.

The shoebill stork often stands and perches on floating vegetation in order to make itself somewhat look bigger.

  1. Conservation status

According to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), the population of Shoebill storks living in the wild is estimated to be between 5,000 and 8,000 individuals. Majority of this bird species can be found living in swamps in South Sudan, Uganda, eastern DR Congo and Zambia.  The shoebill stork has been classified as an endangered bird species by the IUCN, while BirdLife International has marked the species as Vulnerable. The main threats to the survival of the Shoebill stork include; habitat loss due to encroachment by humans on wetlands, disturbance and poaching.

  1. Movement facts about shoebill stork

Shoebill storks can walk on their two legs and can even fly with the help of their wide wings that stretch to 2.5 m during the flight as they move from one place to another. During their flight, they tend to move their heads backwards in order to stay long in air and also use their large wings to maintain balance in the air

In Conclusion: The Shoebill stork is a rare bird to sight, forcing birders to move further deep into wetlands were they can easily be spotted. Visitors interested in seeing the shoebill stork should book a birding safari to Uganda where you will have higher chances of spotting this rare but beautiful bird species.

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