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Shoebill…The craziest bird in the world!!

Shoebill ”The craziest bird in the world”. The shoebill (Balaeniceps rex) also known as whale head, whale-headed stork, whale bill, or shoebill stork, is a very large stork-like bird.  It derives its name from its enormous shoe-shaped bill. Shoebills are large, prehistoric-looking birds which haunt freshwater marshes. At first glance, shoebills don’t seem like they could be ambush predators.

Reaching up to five feet tall with an eight-foot wingspan, shoebills have yellow eyes, gray feathers, white bellies, and a small feathered crest on the back of their heads. They also have long, thin legs with large feet that are ideal for walking on the vegetation in the freshwater marshes and swamps they inhabit in East Africa, from Ethiopia and South Sudan to Zambia.

And It lives in tropical east Africa in large swamps from South Sudan to Zambia, thus fondly referred to by many as the “king of the marshes”. However, the best place to see a shoebill stork is Uganda where the freshwater lakes and swamps provide the foraging and nesting habitat preferred by this species. The shoebill is particularly popular around the River Nile and Lake Albert.

The shoebill’s conspicuous bill is its most well-known feature

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 lb.) generally. While, Shoebill ”The craziest bird in the world” 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-colored with erratic greyish markings. The measurement along the top of the upper mandible is 18.8 to 24 cm (7.4 to 9.4 in), and is the third longest bill among the extant birds after pelicans and large storks, and can outrival the pelicans in bill circumference, especially if the bill is considered as the hard, bony keratin portion.

As in the pelicans, the upper mandible is strongly keeled, ending in a sharp nail. The dark colored 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.

Shoebill specific features

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 giant avian is native to the swamps of Africa and is best known for its prehistoric features, in particular, shoebill is unique for its strong hollow beak and foot-long bill that resembles a Dutch clog.

In addition to tan with brown splotches, it also has sharp edges as well as a sharp hook on the end that makes it stronger and powerful to overtake a crocodile. Alternatively, has previously been classified with the storks in the order of 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 more brown.

The shoebill occurs in extensive, dense freshwater marshes. Almost all wetlands that attract the species have undisturbed Cyprus papyrus and reed beds of Phragmites and Typhus. Although their distribution largely seems to correspond with the distribution of papyrus in central Africa, and is often attracted to areas with mixed vegetation. More rarely, the species has been seen foraging in rice fields and flooded plantations.

 Behaviors and ecology Shoebill ”The craziest bird in the world”

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. 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.

Unlike some other large waders, this species hunts entirely using vision and is not known to engage in tactile hunting. However, when the prey is spotted, it launches a quick violent strike depending on the size of the prey, and handling time after the strike, can exceed 10 minutes.

Hippo activities help the shoebill to survive indirectly

Frequently water and vegetation is snatched up during the strike and is spilled out from the edges of the mandibles. The activities of hippopotamus may help shoebills to survive indirectly by submerging in the water thus, forcing fish to the surface. Shoebills nest atop floating vegetation and gather plant material from surrounding areas to construct their nest.

They tend to use deeper areas of swamps, tucked into tall, dense vegetation, away from disturbances. Shoebill storks have a habit of shaking their heads back and forth like they’re trying to dislodge something. In fact, in the water, when sticky weeds cling to the prey that they’re trying to consume, they’ll shake their heads to get rid of it.

Shoebills have been seen fighting adult Nile crocodiles, along with other large birds, including their own species. They don’t win every fight they pick, but that doesn’t stop them from fighting. If food is scarce, Shoebill ”The craziest bird in the world” they’re willing to take on animals of all sizes to get a decent meal. They eat big fish like lungfish, eels, and catfish, and also crazy stuff like Nile monitor lizards, snakes, and baby crocodiles.

Shoebills stay longer up to seven generations

Shoebill storks can live long enough to see seven generations. Some shoebills born in 1984 are still alive today! Shoebills born this year might live to the year 2053. Shoebill storks live to almost 36 years in the wild. Meanwhile, the shoebill lays up to three eggs in the breeding season. This bird can fly at speeds up to 30 miles per hour.

Meanwhile, its estimate number is only between 3,300 and 5,300 adult shoebills left in the world, and the population is going down. Nevertheless, Shoebill storks are very docile with humans whereby you can be able to come within 6 feet besides a shoebill stork on its nest. The shoebill stork will not threaten humans, but will only stare right back at them.

seven reasons to love shoebill: Shoebill ”The craziest bird in the world”

They may be big, but they can fly if they want to; Granted, shoebills don’t fly very far or often, but flying is no mean feat considering they can grow up to 1.5m tall and weigh up to 7kg!

Shoebills eat fish that look almost as prehistoric as they do; Although shoebills have been known to gulp down other birds, baby crocodiles, frogs, terrapins, water snakes and even small mammals, the lungfish is their staple diet.

Their distinguishing feature is the enormous shoe-shaped bill; measuring an incredible 20-24 centimeters in length and 10-12 centimeters in width, with a razor-sharp, curved hook at the end. Shoebills use their bills to strike their prey, known as a “collapse”, and it’s the antitheses of its patient stalking technique.

Like a geological fault accumulating kinetic energy, this blue monolith will bolt downwards when triggered loose by the rippling of an incoming fish. Head first, gape open, and wings spread, then it smashes through the vegetation in the hopes of coming up with a fish.

Then, whilst keeping its head aloft from the water, it will slide its bill sideways so as to severe its prey, while the water and vegetation snatched up in the strike, spills out from the edges of the bill.

They have large bills that helps them gulp water

Their large bill comes in very handy to carry large ‘gulps’ of fresh water back to the nest in order to douse eggs or chicks when the sweltering heat of the swamps drives temperatures beyond normality.

Shoebills have especially adapted long toes (up to 18cm heel to toe)

with no webbing which helps them to balance on the swampy vegetation while stalking prey. They also have a nictitating membrane – a translucent layer that protects their eyes – they use it when hunting and preening.

Shoebills have a little bit of an identity crisis;

though they may look stork-like, taxonomically speaking they share more traits with the Pelecaniformes (herons and pelicans), and molecular studies have found the hamerkop to be the closest relative of the shoebill.

Shoebills will usually have two chicks,

but only the one that proves to be the strongest survives and the other is left to die. While attending the nest, Shoebill ”The craziest bird in the world” adults perform bill-clattering displays, accompanied sometimes by a whiney-mewing muttering that often elicits a ‘hiccupping’ gurgle from their chicks as they beg in anticipation for food. Both the chicks and the adults engage in bill-clattering during the nesting season as a means of communication.

 Reproduction# Shoebill ”The craziest bird in the world”

Shoebills reach maturity at three to four years old, and breeding pairs are monogamous. These birds are very solitary in nature, though, and even mating pairs will feed at opposite sides of their territory.

Breeding pairs build nests on water or on floating vegetation, and can be up to eight feet wide. Females lay an average of two eggs at the end of the rainy season.

Distribution and habitat  Shoebill ”The craziest bird in the world”

They keep shoebills in zoos, but they rarely report breeding. Pairi Daiza in Belgium is the world’s first zoo to breed a shoebill. The shoebill is distributed in freshwater swamps of central tropical Africa, from southern Sudan and through parts of eastern Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, western Tanzania and northern Zambia.

The species is most numerous in the West Nile sub-region and South Sudan. it is also significant in wetlands of Uganda and western Tanzania. More isolated records have been reported of shoebills in Kenya, the Central African Republic, northern Cameroon, south-western Ethiopia, Malawi.

Vagrant strays to the Okavango Basin, Botswana and the upper Congo River have also been sighted. The distribution of this species seems to largely coincide with that of papyrus and lungfish. They are often found in areas of flood plain interspersed with undisturbed papyrus and reed beds.

Ways to capture a prey

When shoebill storks are in an area with deep water, a bed of floating vegetation is a requirement. This causes the fish living in the water to surface for air more often. The shoebill is non-migratory with limited seasonal movements due to habitat changes, food availability and disturbance by humans.

The solitary nature of shoebills extends to their breeding habits. Nests typically occur at less than three nests per square kilometer, unlike herons, cormorants, pelicans and storks which predominantly nest in colonies. The breeding pair of shoebills vigorously defends a territory of 2 to 4km2 (0.77 to 1. 54sq.mi) from conspecifics.

Incubation process

In the extreme north and south of the species’ range, nesting starts right after the rains end. In more central regions of the range, it may nest near the end of the wet season in order for the eggs to hatch around the beginning of the following wet season.

Both parents engage in building the nest on a floating platform after clearing out an area of  3m (9.8ft.) across. The large, flattish nesting platform is often partially submerged in water & is about 3m (9.8 ft.) deep. The nest itself is about 1 to 1.7m (3.3 to 5.6 ft.) wide.

they make the nest out of aquatic vegetation. They lay one to three white eggs. These eggs measure 80 to 90 mm (3.1 to 3.5in) high by 56 to 61mm (2.2 to 2.4 in) and weigh around 164 g (5.8 oz.).Incubation lasts for approximately 30 days. Both parents actively brood, shade, guard and feed the nestling, though the females are perhaps slightly more attentive.

How to feed the young ones

Food items regurgitate whole from the gullet straight into the bill of the young. Shoebills rarely raise more than one chick but will hatch more. The younger chicks usually die and they intend to be “back-ups” in case the eldest chick dies or is weak. Fledging can reach at around 105 days and the young birds can fly well by 112 days.

However, they are still fed for possibly a month or more after this. It will take the young shoebills three years before they become fully sexually mature. Shoebills are elusive when nesting, so they place cameras to observe them from afar to collect behavioral data. There is an advantage for birds that are early breeders, as they tend the chicks for a longer period.

Voice/sounds of shoebill

The shoebill is normally silent. Meanwhile, Shoebill ”The craziest bird in the world” adult birds utter a cow-like moo, high-pitch whines as well as hoarse croaks as a sign of aggressiveness. Both nestlings and adults engage in bill-clattering during the nesting season as a means of communication.

When young ones are begging for food, they call out with a sound uncannily like human hiccups.

Diet# Shoebill ”The craziest bird in the world”

Preferred prey types include marbled & African lungfish, Senegal bichir, Tilapia and catfish species.

Other prey eaten by this types has included frogs, water snakes, Nile monitors and baby crocodiles.

Status and conservation# Shoebill ”The craziest bird in the world”

The population is between 5,000 to 8,000 individuals, who live in wetlands in Uganda. There is also a viable population in the Malagarasi wetlands in Tanzania.

Bird Life International has classified it as Vulnerable with the main threats being home destruction, disturbance and hunting.

factors that contribute to the decline of this types  Shoebill ”The craziest bird in the world”

Home destruction and degradation, hunting, disturbance and illegal capture are all contributing factors to the decline of this types. Agriculture cultivation and pasture for cattle have also caused remarkable home loss. Local people that surround Shoebill homes capture their eggs and chicks for consumption and trade.

Frequent fires in southern Sudan and deliberate fire for grazing access contribute to home loss. They drain swamps in Sudan  for construction of a nearby canal that allows for artificial control of nearby waterways.

Relationship with humans Shoebill ”The craziest bird in the world”

They consider this type to be one of the five most desirable birds in Africa by birdwatchers. They are docile with humans and show no threatening behavior.

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