Latin Name: Balaeniceps Rex
The shoebill stork, also known as ‘whale beak’ or ‘whale head’ is one of the most jaw dropping sights in the bird world. Standing up to five feet (152 cm, 60in), tall, the shoebill can look intimidating yet it’s harmless to most animals. Coated in a gray, blue feathers, and with a tuft of feathers at the back of their heads, shoe bills are an impressive sight. Their legs are long so they may hunt in shallow water and on aquatic vegetation.
The neck of the shoe bill is shorter than it’s stork cousins, adapted for soaring at speed; it flies with its head and neck retracted while its wing speed is ponderous compared with other soaring birds. However, shoebills often stay close to home, preferring to hunt in steams, rivers and marshes close to their known habitat.
Fantastic Facts About The Shoebill
- The shoebills flapping rate is one of the slowest of any bird with a rate of about 150 flaps a minute.
- Much of the shoebills plumage is ocean gray or white
- The small tuft of feathers on the back of their skulls rises when they’re excited.
Shoebill Diet & Hunting
The shoebill feeds on small fish like most other storks such as lungfish. The shoebill is non migratory, unless its habitat is threatened, which happens by the activities of man. It is often stationary, appearing statue like, relying on keen vision to hunt. They can often be found where waters are poorly oxygenated so fish often need to rise to the surface. They do hunt in deeper water where there are beds of aquatic vegetation to stand upon.
Their diet is not limited to lung fish; these great storks will hunt many fish (larger prey than other wading birds) and also small lizards such as young crocodiles and turtles. There are also reports of them eating rodents. Their ‘whale’ beaks are sometimes used to dig into mud beds – homes (their favourite prey) of, lung fish, digging them out of their burrows. National Geographic describes their hunting technique as ‘collapsing which involves lunging or falling forward on their prey’.
Nesting & Habits of Shoebills
Shoebills are more solitary than other storks. Whereas storks such as herons will nest in colonies, it is rare to find more than three shoebill nests in one square kilometer. Breeding couples will staunchly defend territories of up to four square meters from other shoebills. The nest site will be about three meters wide and up to nine feet deep with part of the next submerged.
They are often silent but will ‘bill clatter’ sometimes when nesting or greeting. Co-parenting by habit, means they build their nests together and take turns turning and sitting on the two eggs that are produced a year.
Endangered Status of Shoebills
Vulnerable: with only 5000-8000 sole birds; shoebills are threatened by habitat loss.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimates there are only between 3,300 and 5,300 adult shoebills left in the wild and the population is decreasing.
Threats include, killings as superstition in some places says the birds are bad omens; agricultural burning, hunting for food, loss of habitat for humans and the oil industry.
Locations of Shoe Bills
The shoebill lives in the wild at: Uganda, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, and Zambia. There is also a reported number in Malagarasi wetlands in Tanzania.
Shoebills in Literature
“His eyes darted to a tall, dark shape, on a low branch that dominated all it surveyed; a yellow beak, long bulbous and blurred grey and blue feathers of a figure appeared through blinding slants. He knew him. The figure was Tocus, the shoebill crane. At nearly four feet tall he was the tallest bird on the plains.
Diagonal, charcoal scars streaked his beak in testimony to his long years hunting turtles and small birds. Resembling an oval boulder, his beak looked out of place on a bird; a heavy brow over dark eyes bestowed an unfriendly air.”The Zambezi Allies, E.G Price:
Q & A
Are shoe bills dangerous to humans?
While shoebills will avoid humans in the wild, they can be tame and friendly in captivity.
How many shoe bills are alive in the wild today?
According to the IUCN Redlist there are between ‘3300 and 5300’ mature shoebills alive in the wild.
Do shoebills have more than one chick?
Shoebills often have more than one chick though thee mother will only feed the bigger chick. The bigger chick will often push the smaller one out of the nest or even kill it.
How large is the wingspan of the shoebill?
The wingspan of the shoebill can be as large as 8 feet (2.43 meters).
Which order is the shoebill in?
The shoebill is in the order, Pelecaniformes
How long do shoebills live?
These unique and sometimes scary looking birds live to thirty five years and even fifty years in captivity.
What are the predators of shoebills?
Crocodiles hunt shoebills. Ironically shoebills hunt baby crocodiles.
Are the feet of shoebills webbed?
Shoebills have three long toes which helps them walk on land and navigate aquatic vegetation
How much does a shoebill weigh?
Male shoebills weigh on average around 5.6 kg (12 lb) and are larger than average females: 4.9 kg (11 lb).