What Is A Shoebill?

A shoebill is a huge bird which is stork-like. The huge bird gets its name due to its large bill which is shoe-like. In other places, you may hear people referring to a shoebill as a whitehead, whale-headed stork, whale bill or even shoebill stork.

Shoebill Couple
Shoebill Couple

Fully grown shoebills can easily be identified by their gray color while the young ones have a brown color. Looking at a shoebill for the first time they can seem to be very calm, but when they notice prey near them they spring with a lot of vigor to grab it. The enormous bill of the shoebill enables it to seize large prey like tilapia fish and snakes.

Where Do Shoebills Live?

Shoebills live in the wetter areas of east and central Africa. They can be found in the wet areas in the countries of Uganda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Northeastern Zambia. Shoebills like swampy areas where there are plants like papyrus, reeds and cattails. They have also been found in wet areas where there is no papyrus.

Shoebills prefer swampy areas with buoyant plants which ease their living and hunting activities. The shoebills hunt for fish in the swampy areas whereby they wait for the fish to come nearer to the surface in search of air and then they grasp them.

South Luangwa National Park
South Luangwa National Park

How Long Do Shoebills Live?

Shoebills live for approximately 36 years. The shoebills are said to be fully grown and mature once they attain three or four years. These birds like being on their own and it’s quite rare to see a large group of them.

Since their habitat is the swampy area, that is still where their breeding process takes place. Their nests can be up to eight feet wide with the females laying about two eggs at the closure of the rainy period. Both parents, the male and female, share the duty of taking care of their young ones.

Can A Shoebill Fly?

Despite the large size of the Shoebill, a shoebill can fly whenever it wants to. The wings of a shoebill have a length of about 2.5 meters. Whenever they fly, the shoebills do not go over a long distance while still flying. This can be attributed to the speed at which they flap their large wings which are about 150 times per every minute as compared to other birds which can be 500 times in one minute.

Can Shoebills Swim?

Shoebill storks do not swim. However, while in the swampy areas they stay on the water surface being as patient and calm as possible as they wait to spot some prey. The shoebills can feed on baby crocodiles, lizards and other huge fish like catfish and lungfish. When they notice there is prey nearby, they surge forward slowly and opening their large bill, they catch the prey together with any mud which was surrounding it.

The shoebills move their bills up and down and sideways in a bid to get rid of the mud which is together with the prey. When all the unwanted material is gone and is left with the prey, they start crushing from the head.

How Fast Can A Shoebill Run?

A shoebill has an average speed of about 20 to 30 mph (35 to 48 kph). The shoebill is a tall bird of about 1 to 1.4 meters with tall legs which enable it to move fast. The body of a shoebill is also very robust, especially around its neck. This enables it to have great speed especially when it is running.

Are Shoebill Storks Endangered?

Shoebill storks are a critically endangered species today. These birds are extremely solitary birds therefore, it might be difficult to spot them. The decrease of these birds has been mostly due to the destruction of their habitat leaving them with nowhere to stay. These birds face a lot of resentment from some communities where they are considered to be a sign of a bad omen.

When fishermen see these birds in water bodies they normally sense bad luck all day long. These birds have also been reduced due to the continued hunting by human beings. Especially for those people who believe these birds are a negative sign to them, they kill them to cleanse their lands.

How Many Shoebills Are Left?

The total number of shoebills remaining today is estimated to be between 3300 and 5300. This number continues to dwindle every day due to the continuous destruction of its habitat. The shoebills can easily be seen in Uganda in the areas of Lake Albert and Lake Edward, where they are protected. 

Shoebills have been reported to have been found in wetland regions of central tropical Africa and the Eastern Africa region. The birds are said to be in a large number in the west Nile sub-region.

Are Shoebills Dinosaurs?

Shoebills are thought to have evolved from dinosaurs due to their physical appearance of the shoebill. Having a height of about four and a half feet the shoebills have a strong and enormous bill which can crush down a six-foot lungfish. This is not normal for any bird. It is said that as a bird develops from a dinosaur its teeth-tipped snouts change into beaks.

However, this is not the case with the shoebill as it seems it did not develop much from its features. The shoebill can be said to carry a lot of similarities with the pelican especially due to its fierce hunting techniques.

How Big Do Shoebills Get?

A shoebill is a gigantic bird that can grow to a height of between 110 and 140cm. However, some rare types can attain a towering height of 152cm. These birds are said to have the third largest beaks in the world. Their bills are between 20 and 25cm.

The weight of these birds depends on whether it is a male or female as males are heavier. A male has an average weight of 5.6kg while a female has an average weight of 4.9 kg. They also have large wings which range between 230 and 260cm.

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