Fascinating Facts About The Shoebill

The African birds are among the most amazing animals and the most interesting to behold on the planet. The Shoebill, also known as whalebill, whale-headed stork or the shoebill stork, is an amazingly huge stork-like bird, thus why it has been categorized with the storks. While the young shoebill storks have a significantly brown appearance, the adult ones are usually grey. Shoebills have their habitat on the marshy areas, wetlands and dense marshes. 

On your safaris in Africa, you would spot these massive birds in Uganda, south-western Ethiopia, the upper region of the Congo River, Malawi, Southern Sudan, Zambia and Kenya, among other African countries. 

Below are some of the top-notch facts about the shoebill.

1. The Get Their ‘’Shoe’’ From The Shape Of Their Beak

Just like a stork, the size and shape of the beak of a shoebill are used to get its name. They make the huge birds get a sense of dinosaur-like façade. 

A shoebill has a shoe-shaped, long and wide bill or beak, from where it draws its name.

The bill is about 9.4 inches long and four inches wide. It is straw-colored and has some grayish markings. At the end, the bill of the shoebill curves to form a hook-like pointed tip, which the bird would use to prick their prey’s body.

2. Shoebill Storks Are Solitary Birds

It is a common characteristic to see birds of the same feather flocking together. This is unknown among the shoebills and it seems like each has to mind its own business and remain independent from the other. 

Naturally, a shoebill lives in solitude. Even after mating, the two birds get back to their initial feeding grounds of their territory, each in its own.

The birds breed in solitary places and they stay in territories going up to three square kilometers. However, they only own a maximum of three nests in every square kilometer of their territory.

3. They Can Grow Upto 1.5 Meters Tall And Live Up To 50 Years Old

This is one of the tallest birds in the wild. Towering up the skies, the bird is usually taller than most of the teenagers in their early teenage years. The bird’s tall legs make it usually visible from the forests, even without struggling. Its lifespan is another wonder. 

The whalebill typically stands between 1.1 and 1.4 meters tall (43 and 55 inches). Some exceptions are over 1.5 meters (around 60 inches) tall. Its lifespan ranges between 35 and 50 years.

The male bird weighs approximately 5.6 kilograms while the female, anywhere around 4.9 kilograms. Its legs are dark-colored, measure between 22 and 26 centimeters and enable the shoebill to stand on the aquatic and wet vegetation when hunting. It has highly-adapted, broad wings, with strong muscles to propel the heavy bird up the air. Their long lifespan enables them to see even their seventh generation. For a bird, 35 to 50 years are like a century.

4. The Young Are Forced Out From 2.5 Months

Normally, a shoebill lays two eggs at the end of the rainy season, which marks the end of the mating season. While it is true that shoebills grow from the time of hatching through to three years of age, the mothers cannot keep providing for them after they get to two-and-a-half months old. 

2.5 months after hatching, either the mother or one of the two siblings would force out the other or an older one will fight a young one and force it to escape for its dear life. 

It is able to survive alone in the forest and the mother no longer provides for it. Actually, it might never see her again, especially due to the solitary nature of shoebills.

5. Young Shoebill Storks Can Kill Their Siblings For Attention From Their Mother

You may think that shoebirds become rebellious and aggressive at their old age or on maturity, but you would be stunned realizing that bullying of the young bird starts when they are a few weeks old. The territorial behavior of aggression and intolerance starts during their tender age.

Young shoebills (called siblicide) born and bred in the same nest would fight, competing for their mother’s attention. The older birds would bully, fight and even kill their siblings so that the mother could stop giving them food.

The young ones start fighting one another when they are just two months old. The winning party would force the other to escape to a place of its own. The ones alive in the forest are therefore victors in making, already hardened from birth.

6. Shoebills Can Remain Still And Patient For Hours When Hunting

The hunting experience of the shoebills is an interesting expedition, one of its kind among the birds and all other animals in the wild. While at times they choose to fly and terrorize their prey, they are also able to remain motionless for a long time. The prey is therefore unable to easily notice them.

While hunting, the shoebill is patient enough to remain intact, motionless for over an hour, just waiting for the prey to pop up. 

They feed on frogs, fish, lizards, snakes among other animals they can handle. They are known as courageous in their hunting expeditions. When the prey is in sight, the huge bird lunges or falls on it, a technique called “collapsing”. With the weight of the bird, the prey is unable to continue breathing. They also pick the prey quickly, using their wide and strong beaks. Before the prey sees the motionless bird, it is in the huge beak, waiting to be swallowed in a single gulp.

7. Shoebill Storks Are An Endangered Species And Their Numbers Are Rapidly Declining

These birds have been getting popular, especially as people continue to grasp the interesting facts about the shoebills and their areas of existence. Poachers are reducing their numbers, even as human settlements, raging, fires and pollution encroach the birds’ habitats, and climate change continues to ravage and minimize the wetland areas and swamps, where these birds live and feed from.

Sadly, these amazing birds are already an endangered species, according to the Red List posted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Only between 3300 and 5300 mature shoebill storks are alive today.

The numbers are reducing and the species are being termed endangered. Shoebills rarely breed while in captivity; leaving them roaming the wild is the best way to maintain their populations.

8. Shoebills Poop On Themselves As A Cooling Mechanism

With the birds being huge, they have to control their body temperatures to avoid overheating, even when living in wet areas.

To manage their body temperatures, shoebills poop on their legs. The poop, which contains several liquids, evaporates from the legs, cooling them down, a mechanism known as urohydrosis.

This is another reason why they were classified with the storks, for all storks use this technique to reduce body heat.

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