The giant shoebill stork is a very interesting and impressive creature listed among the most sought after birds in Africa also known as the shoe-billed stork or whale-headed stork. It belongs to the Animalia kingdom, Chordata phylum, Aves class, Pelecaniformes order and Balaenicipitidae family. The bird is usually 150cm tall and weighs up to 14 pounds. Shoebills are known as very shy birds that prefer to be alone most of the time. Uganda has over 1000 shoebill birds and these can easily be seen while on a Uganda safari. In Uganda, shoebill storks are found mostly around water body areas such as in dense marshes and swamps for example in Lake Mburo national park, Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, Mabamba swamp, Queen Elizabeth national park, Murchison falls national park, Semuliki wildlife reserve, the Nabajuza swamp and Lake Kyoga shores. Shoebills storks can also be found in Kenya, the upper Congo river, South-Western Ethiopia, Northern Cameroon, Malawi, Botswana and the Central African Republic. Shoebill storks feed on eels, fish (lung fish, cat fish), frogs, baby crocodiles occasionally and water snakes. They can live for over 35 years which is long enough to see as many as seven generations. Below are some of the facts you did not know about shoebill storks that will amaze you;
- They are very courageous and fearless
Shoebill storks are very brave as they are always ready to face any kind of danger. This is because of the environment they live in as they are exposed to a lot of challenges such as predators, food scarcity, several diseases and more dangerous situations. They are very aggressive and do not fear or hesitate to attack even the larger animals such as crocodiles or their fellow storks for any reason even if it is being in their line of sight. Despite their aggressiveness, shoebill storks are not very strong as sometimes they lose to their opponents.
- Competition for attention among the young ones
Young shoebill storks are very attention seeking in the presence of their mothers and if more than one shoebill is born in the same nest, this could be a problem as they can even fight one another. According to research, it has been discovered that young shoebill storks between the age of two months and one year use their size and dominance against their siblings that is to say the larger and more dominant ones fight off their siblings and sometimes the smaller ones are forced to run away/flee from the nests and live somewhere else on their own.
- They are very patient
Shoebills have the ability to tolerate delay, problems and suffering for a long time without being frustrated in any way which makes them known as “masters of patience.” They can stand in their hiding places such as in water and tall grasses for hours as they wait for prey. While looking for food at night, they are able to stand still and blend in with the darkness around until their goal is achieved since they have it in mind that waiting for longer hours will enable them to eventually find food. They always wait until the right moment then they leap from their cover/hide out to attack the prey.
- They are solitary birds
Shoebill storks live and do each and everything individually. It is very rare to see shoebills working together as they only mate once in a while that is to say a few times in a year but after, they will hunt and eat separately. Mating usually takes place during the dry season (between April and June) because parenting then is easier and after the dry season the birds separate.
- Their wings are extremely large
Shoebills have wings as their largest extensions as it is believed that they are five times larger than their bodies when fully extended stretching up to 2.5 meters. With the help of their wings, they can balance their bodies which prevents them from falling since they stand on only two legs, intimidate predators and also fly. They fly with their necks and heads folded backwards in order to increase aerodynamics and also to maintain longer flights.
- They are very loud
While shoebills are waiting for their prey, they are extremely silent but when it comes to mating time, they cry out very loud as they attack their partners. This sound is as loud as a machine gun, quite terrifying but the mates like it and respond accordingly.
- They have shoe-like shaped beaks
Just like their name, shoebill storks have long shoe-like shaped beaks. These are big in size as they can be even more than a quarter the size of the rest of their bodies that is to say about 24 centimeters long and about 20 centimeters wide. These beaks help them to eat in large quantities as they eat fish and other small animals just in one single gulp. The ends of the beaks are curved downwards forming some sort of hook which is used to pierce through and tear the bodies of prey helping in digestion.
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