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Shoebill Stork Facts and Information

The shoebill (Balaeniceps rex) also known as whalehead, whale-headed stork, or shoebill stork, is a very large stork-like bird. It derives its name from its enormous shoe-shaped bill. It has a somewhat stork-like overall form and has previously been classified with the storks in the order Ciconiiformes based on this morphology. However, genetic evidence places it with pelicans and herons in the Pelecaniformes. The adult is mainly grey while the juveniles are browner. It lives in tropical east Africa in large swamps from South Sudan to Zambia.

Shoebill Strok Appearance and Size

shoebill stork can grow taller than some humans
shoebill stork can grow taller than some humans

The shoebill is a tall bird, with a typical height range of 110 to 140 cm (43 to 55 in) and some specimens reaching as much as 152 cm (60 in). Length from tail to beak can range from 100 to 140 cm (39 to 55 in) and wingspan is 230 to 260 cm (7 ft 7 in to 8 ft 6 in). Weight has reportedly ranged from 4 to 7 kg (8.8 to 15.4 lb).

A male will weigh on average around 5.6 kg (12 lb) and is larger than a typical female of 4.9 kg (11 lb). The signature feature of the species is its huge, bulbous bill, which is straw-coloured with erratic greyish markings.

As in the pelicans, the upper mandible is strongly keeled, ending in a sharp nail. The dark coloured legs are fairly long, with a tarsus length of 21.7 to 25.5 cm (8.5 to 10.0 in). The shoebill’s feet are exceptionally large, with the middle toe reaching 16.8 to 18.5 cm (6.6 to 7.3 in) in length, likely assisting the species in its ability to stand on aquatic vegetation while hunting. The neck is relatively shorter and thicker than other long-legged wading birds such as herons and cranes. The wings are broad, with a wing chord length of 58.8 to 78 cm (23.1 to 30.7 in), and well-adapted to soaring.

The shoebill stork can grow taller than some humans, depending on age and gender. Additionally, both humans and the shoebill stork eat omnivorous diets and face similar predators.

Relationship to humans

shoebill human relation
While it may surprise you, a shoebill stork can grow taller than some humans, though not all.

This species is considered to be one of the five most desirable birds in Africa by birdwatchers. They are docile with humans and show no threatening behavior. Researchers were able to observe a bird on its nest at a close distance (within 2 meters (6 ft 7 in)).

Shoebill strok Behaviour

The shoebill is noted for its slow movements and tendency to stay still for long periods, resulting in descriptions of the species as “statue-like”. They are quite sensitive to human disturbance and may abandon their nests if flushed by humans. However, while foraging, if dense vegetation stands between it and humans, this wader can be fairly tame.

The shoebill is attracted to poorly oxygenated waters such as swamps, marshes and bogs where fish frequently surface to breathe. Exceptionally for a bird this large, the shoebill often stands and perches on floating vegetation, making them appear somewhat like a giant jacana, although the similarly sized and occasionally sympatric Goliath heron (Ardea goliath) is also known to stand on aquatic vegetation.

Shoebills, being solitary, forage at 20 m (66 ft) or more from one another even where relatively densely populated. This species stalks its prey patiently, in a slow and lurking fashion. While hunting, the shoebill strides very slowly and is frequently motionless. Unlike some other large waders, this species hunts entirely using vision and is not known to engage in tactile hunting.

When prey is spotted, it launches a quick violent strike. However, depending on the size of the prey, handling time after the strike can exceed 10 minutes. Around 60% of strikes yield prey. Frequently water and vegetation is snatched up during the strike and is spilled out from the edges of the mandibles. The activity of hippopotamus may inadvertently benefit the shoebill, as submerged hippos occasionally force fish to the surface.

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