The shoebill bird is also known as a whale-headed stork or whale head. It’s a very large stork-like bird and its name is coming from the massive shoe-shaped bill. It has a form very similar to a stork, and at one point it was a part of the Ciconiiformes classification where you can find all the other storks.
Shoebill bird appearance
The shoebill stork is amongst the largest birds in the world. Most of the time it will be anywhere from 110 to 140 cm in height. Males are usually taller than females and they will also have a much longer bill. Another thing to consider when it comes to the shoebill stork is the fact that it has a blue-gray, slaty plumage. Their primaries are black-tipped, while their secondary comes with a green tint. When it comes to their underparts, they have light touches of gray, which is something to take into consideration.
When you see the shoebill bird, you will notice some tuft of feathers on the back of their head. This will sometimes appear in the form of a crest. That crest is covered, and the juveniles tend to have a darker shade most of the time.
The shoebill stork bill is their prominent feature and it’s very similar to a wooden shoe. On top of that, it has a curved, sharp hook towards the end. The bill color is yellow, but in many cases it does have some blotchy dark spots. Another thing to consider here is that the shoebill stork mandible has a very sharp edge. That helps the bird catch fish with ease and eat it without a problem.
One thing to consider about the shoebill stork is the fact that the eyes are grayish-white or even yellow in color. As you can see from its looks, the shoebill stork comes with very long, black-ish legs. Unlike other birds, however, the shoebill stork doesn’t have any webbing in between the legs. Everything is completely divided. That helps the bird move faster, and it’s making it different in a variety of ways.
Range & habitat
You can find the shoebill stork in Africa, more specifically the East-Central part of Africa. Most of the populations are indigenous to southern Sudan, northern Ugandan wetlands as well as the Bangweulu swamp. There are some smaller shoebill stork populations that live in Rwanda and the eastern part of Zaire. One thing to note about the shoebill stork habitat is the fact that it normally lives where you can find lungfish and papyrus.
When it comes to the type of habitat they like, the shoebill stork will usually choose dense marshes and freshwater swamps. You will find these in areas of flood plain that also have reedbeds and undisturbed papyruses. It’s also possible to find the shoebill stork where there are things like poorly oxygenated water. Since fish here need to come to the surface more often, it’s easy to see why birds like the shoebill stork will gravitate towards such an area. They can also be close to marine or saltwater habitats, as long as they have access to everything they need.
A shoebill stork will eat anything from bichirs to lungfish, water snakes, tilapia, catfish and so on. They are also known for eating carrion, mollusks, turtles, monitor lizards and even frogs. So yes, they are mostly carnivorous and they eat a variety of different animals residing in their habitat.
Behaviour & lifestyle
You won’t find shoebill bird in any group, that happens only when the food is in very short supply. The breeding pairs even forage separate to one another. They don’t migrate either, if there’s enough food in the region, they will stay there for years. These birds are soaring on thermals, and they are docile with humans. These birds are mostly silent, but they do perform bill clattering and use it as a form of communication. The adults will greet each other, but even chicks will do it as well.
Shoebill storks are known to be solitary breeders. They do have territories, which are around 3 km in length. During the breeding season, such birds are super territorial and they will defend the nest against any predators that appear. The breeding time starts along with the dry season. In regards to the reproduction cycle, this will start from nest building and then it will go up to fledging. This takes 6 months or sometimes even more.
Usually the shoebill stork will have its nest on floating vegetation or a small island. They use grass as a nesting material. However, they are known to create very large structures from grass, sometimes about 1 meter in diameter. They will lay 1, 2 or 3 flaky white eggs. The problem is that a lot of predators will attack their nest, so it’s possible for them to just have a single chick at the end of the breeding season.
The shoebill stork incubation period is around a month. The adults must feed regurgitated food to the chicks at least 2-5 times per day. The shoebill stork is a monogamous breeder. As you can see, the development process is very slow when compared to other birds, which is something to keep in mind. The chicks will develop feathers after 60 days, but they are unable to fly until after 100 days. Normally the parents will feed the youngster a month after fledging, once that is done they will be on their own.
How long does a shoebill bird live?
That depends on multiple factors, such as predators, location and genetics. But it’s normal to expect shoebill storks to live 36+ years in the wild. These are some of those birds that are known to live for a very long time, and that’s maybe why their development is way slower when compared to a multitude of other birds similar to them.
Meet the shoebill bird
There are around 11,000 to 15,000 shoebill stork birds in the wild right now. The population is scattered, so that helps protect the species since they are harder to catch by various predator. These are amazing, docile, and imposing birds that everyone will enjoy seeing!
Did you enjoy learning about the shoebill bird? Have you ever met this unique creature face-to-face? Tell us about your shoebill bird experience in the comment section below. Because those who care, share!