Tuesday, May 22, 2007


The shoebill stork a large, somewhat frightful bird stands 4 feet/54 in./122 cm tall.

The shoebill also known as the whale head, is noted for its large head and unusually long and wide, many-colored bill, which ends in a hooked tip. It has broad wings and long, strong legs with large, un-webbed feet. A solitary, silent bird, the shoebill stork is native to the marshy banks of the papyrus swamps of the East African White Nile and its tributaries, where it feeds on a diet of frogs, small crocodiles, and especially lungfish and other mud puddle fish. It obtains this diet by probing the mud with its bootlike bill.

The bill is the most prominent feature of the shoebill and does indeed resemble a wooden shoe. It is an enormous structure ending in a sharp, curved hook.

Shoebills are usually silent, but will often participate in bill-clattering, a behavior characteristic of true storks. Adults will often do this when greeting each other at the nest, but young shoebills also perform the bill-clatter. Adults will also make a whining or "mooing" noise and young will make a hiccupping noise especially when begging for food.

The shoebill is a solitary species and is never found in groups. Only when food is in short supply will shoebills forage near each other.

Shoebills are monogamous breeders and both parents participate in every aspect of nest building, incubation and chick rearing. A ground nester, the shoebill deposits its one or two chalky white eggs in a nest of grasses on a high, dry spot, where its downy young remain, helpless for some time after hatching.

Partially nocturnal, it tends to be sluggish but is nonetheless a strong flyer and soarer. In several respects, shoebills are similar to herons, e.g., they fly with their heads and necks folded back.

Shoebills are very docile and permissive when it comes to humans. Researchers studying these birds have been able to come within 6 feet of a shoebill on its nest. The shoebill will not threaten humans, but will only stare right back at them.

University of Michigan Museum of Zoology


Anonymous said...

Thank you for some truely amazing photos and info on this most extraordinary bird.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant pictures and very informed write up