The Shoebill facts.
The Shoebill facts-The term of Shoebill serves as the most frequently used of the common names for a stork-like bird, renowned for its size. It also has alternate names by which it’s known, though. These include the whalehead, whale-headed stork, and shoe-billed stork. The shoebill looks mean and a little prehistoric compared to other species in the same family. If you have only seen pictures of it, it might look a little unreal but there is a healthy number of shoebills in Uganda that you can meet during Uganda safaris.
Distribution & Natural Habitat.
The Shoebill has a somewhat limited range of habitation. That’s due to the fact that it only appears to live in a small portion of one continent. Evidence indicates it once had a greater range, though. It tends to inhabit around freshwater swamps, wetlands and marshlands.
The Shoebill is endemic to East and Central African, countries of Uganda, DRC, Kenya, Botswana, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Zambia and South Sudan. Here is a Habitat Map showing all the countries which are known to have shoebill. In Uganda, you can see these rare birds in Mabamba swamp, Lake Mburo National Park, Zziwa Rhino Sanctuary, and Murchison Falls National Park.
Shoebill Physical Description
Unlike other bird species, shoebill is a tall bird. Its great physical size, though, easily ranks as one of these distinguishing traits. That’s because it’s a tall bird, to put it mildly. That’s due to the fact that mature adults stand an average of 43 – 55 in (110 – 140 cm) in height. Exceptional specimens reach 60 in (152 cm).
It is grey in colour, but the most outstanding feature is the shoe-shaped bill.
The beak of the shoebill is curved at the tip and has very sharp edges with which the bird uses to cut through its food. The beak is almost 10 inches long, deadly and used for both feeding and protecting itself.
The legs are long, slender and black in colour, with large feet.
The shoebill wings can spread up to 2.5 meters (8 feet) and can flap about 150 times per minute. This means that when a shoebill spreads its wings, it has a bigger wingspan than Shaquille O’Neal (Wingspan of 7.5 feet). That is how massive a shoebill really is.
Although it is called a shoebill stork, it is a member of the taxonomic order of Pelecaniformes. These are a family of medium to large-sized water birds. This means they are more closely related to the pelicans, anhingas and gannets than to the storks.
Socially, the shoebill is a solitary and quiet animal. Partners only come together for mating, building the nesting area and incubating the eggs. The shoebill stork can live for more than 35 years in the wild. A shoebill stork becomes sexually active at 3 to 4 years of age.
The shoebill mating season is closer to the dry period than the wet period when it is safer for the nest and eggs. The female lays between 1 to 3 eggs and incubates then for about 30 days until they hatch.
The young one is not able to stand and move on its own until two months later, so it solely depends on the mother’s food provision until three months later when they can do this on their own with the supervision of the parents. When hungry the chicks make hiccup-like sounds to notify the mother that they need food.
The chicks are known for being insanely competitive. It is the real survival for the fittest in the shoebill’s nest. They fight each other off until the weakest chick is pushed out. The bigger chicks often pick on the smaller ones especially when the mother is way, and this often drives the defeated bird to live outside of the family. Sibling rivalry is very common among these young shoebills.
It is a quiet animal and can go for days without making any noise or sounds leave for the flapping of its wings. However, when it does make a sound it is indeed ground shaking. This is most evidenced in the mating season when the male adult picks out its mate. It will make a resounding clapping-like sound attracting the said female while simultaneously scaring away any competitors and other small animals. The male and female bow to each other as a display of their courtship.
The shoebill can fly but not for a long period of time considering it can only flap its wings 150 times a minute (Slowest rate of any bird). It can only fly up to 500 metres.
A shoebill spends most of the time standing, hidden and watching out for its prey. It is said that a shoebill can stand motionless for hours while holding their bills close to their necks. Such a meditative and yet cunning hunter.
Food and Diet
The Shoebill is a carnivorous bird that mainly feeds on fish and aquatic features. Shoebills prefer to feed on lungfish but supplement this other assortment like water snakes, frogs, turtles, and occasionally baby crocodiles when the young one’s parents are not around.
They lunge at the baby crocodile swiftly when an opportunity presents itself. With the sharp and hard beak, once the prey is captured, it is very rare to escape their fate.
It is known for being a fierce hunter and a patient predator. The shoebill will wait out its prey especially in the shallow ends of wetlands or any floating vegetation to stake out its meal. At the right moment, it strikes promptly and deadly possibly killing its prey in one swift move.
The beak is a fundamental instrument in eating. It is used to catch and kill the prey, as well as to chop off the heads of the prey for ease while swallowing.
The available data indicate that the population of the shoebill is decreasing.
The population of shoebills is estimated to be around 5000 in the entire world. Although, it is hard to have the exact number of living shoebills because of their mysterious and elusive nature. They set up nests in hard to reach areas for humans.
The biggest threat to this interesting bird is humans. The constant encroachment on wetlands for human economic activity is a continuous threat to these birds.
There are also certain myths and superstitions about the shoebill that lead to it’s hunting. A common myth is that shoebills on the shores of the river/lake bring bad luck to the fishermen for the day.
In Uganda, they are estimated to be less than 1,000 shoebill birds left.
The shoebill is an interesting bird to watch during your Uganda safaris in Mabamba swamp, Lake Mburo National Park, Zziwa Rhino Sanctuary, and Murchison Falls National Park. For inquiries send us an email via email@example.com and for more information, please visit www.mondsafaris.com