Deep in the remote, dense swamps of Africa lives an unusual bird with a shoe for a face. The Shoebill stork looks more like something out of a fantasy novel. this rare bird might very well have walked out of the dinosaur era, just as it is.
When kept in captivity the shoebill has been known to display similar behaviour to the mythical Hippogriff in Harry Potter. The Hippogriff as described in the Harry Potter books is a proud, flesh-eating, eagle-horse hybrid with a sensitive and noble character. In order to approach the Hippogriff without serious injury, one must bow to it before approaching. A captive Shoebill in Uganda named Sushi has displayed similar behaviour, and when the greeting is not reciprocated, Sushi flies away.
They share traits with storks and herons, like the long necks and legs characteristic of wading birds, though their closest relatives are the pelicans.
- Shoebills stand about 115 cm (3.8 feet) tall.
- They are entirely gray, with broad wings and long legs.
- The head is large in proportion to the body, and the eyes are also exceptionally large.
- They have an eight-foot wingspan
- The species is named for its clog-shaped bill, which is an adaptation for catching and holding the large, slippery lungfish.
- Its big, bulbous bill serves many purposes – its a handy container for fish prey, as well as water to douse its eggs or chicks. Shoebills are large-bodied, sturdy animals.
- A soothing combination of blue-gray, dark gray, and slate colour make up most of its plumage.
- They have soft, doe-like blue eyes, a genetic mutation found in certain populations. The eyes are very piercing and are yellowish or greyish white.
- Its unusual large, splotchy bill has sharp edges, which help in the swift decapitation of prey, and also in separating out vegetation that may have been collected with the fish.
The shoebill’s wings are well suited for soaring; they are strong enough to enable the bird to lift off near vertically.
- Shoebills are diurnal, and only occasionally hunt at night if the moonlight is bright enough.
- While it may perch or roost in trees, it is more often in or near water. It spends a great deal of time motionless!
- It tends to be slow-moving, except in the moment of collapsing on its prey with lightning speed.
- Though they’re mainly silent, shoebills sometimes engage in a sound made as a greeting and during nesting. They claps the mandibles of its bill together as a display, producing a loud, hollow sound called bill clattering.
- The Shoebill storks are not known to be aggressive towards humans
This Shoebill Stork is endemic to swamps and wetlands of Central and East Africa. They inhabit swampy regions in and around the White Nile area of northeastern Africa. They stake out overspill areas, where water is moving slowly past toward lakes, carrying with it lots of fish. In Uganda, they are found along marshy edges of lakes, in areas grown over with reeds, papyrus, and grasses, for cover and nest material.
Shoebills nest atop floating vegetation and collect plant material from surrounding areas to construct their nest. They tend to use deeper areas of swamps, tucked into tall, dense vegetation, away from disturbances.
Breeding season is synched to local water levels—it typically begins as the dry season starts, so that the youngsters will fledge at the end of the dry season, as the rains begin. (But shoebills in Uganda are not that forward thinking, and their breeding season coincides with the main rains.)
Shoebills lay one to three eggs (usually two), at intervals of up to five days apart. Both parents share in the 30-day incubation duties. Shoebill chicks are covered in thick, silvery-gray down and already have a wide gape, but the bill won’t start to bulge for about another month. Fledging occurs at around 95 days of age; they are independent at 125 days.
Shoebills reach maturity at three to four years old, and breeding pairs are monogamous. These birds are very solitary in nature.
Diet and hunting
Shoebills are “stand-and-wait” or “wade-and-walk-slowly” hunters. The shoebill holds its bill vertically downward, out of the way of its binocular vision. When a food item is spotted, the shoebill jerks its head forward, lunging full speed ahead, lurching into the water to engulf the fish with its bill.
Its “collapsing” fishing technique is not effective in deep water, so this bird sticks to the shallows, mostly. Waters with low oxygen content are favored hangouts, as fish need to surface more often.
The Shoebill is no vegetarian. In fact, it is a formidable carnivore. Lungfish, catfish, and tilapia are common food items, as well as water snakes, frogs, monitor lizards, and young turtles. Less common are young water birds and crocodiles.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimates that there are only between 3,300 and 5,300 adult shoebills left in the world, and the population is going down.
As land is cleared for pasture, habitat loss is a major threat, and sometimes cattle will trample on nests. Agricultural burning and pollution from the oil industry and tanneries also affect their habitats. Shoebills are hunted as food in some places, and in others, they’re hunted because they’re considered a bad omen.
REFERENCES FOR VIDEO:
Close up shoebill
Shoebill – Anatomy
Shoebill with lungfish
Shoebill noise video
Shoebill stare – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCyjZ-2iCc3udsbV-k_EFK5g
Shoebill catching fish
Shoe bill slow moving
Shoebill close up at zoo – reproduction title
Shoebill flying 2 – title conservation
White nile Uganda