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Meet The Weird Looking “Shoebill Stork”

Shoebill stork Uganda

The shoebill stork Balaeniceps rex is one of the must see birds for any birder travelling to Uganda or East Africa and many bird lovers from all over the world travel to the region to observe this prehistoric looking bird along the shores of Lake Victoria.

 

shoebill stork
The shoebill stork or whale-headed stork.

The extraordinary Shoebill StorkIt causes tremendous excitement among birding enthusiasts. In our opinion, this bird may have the most curious bill of all the birds found in Uganda. Its unique shoe shaped bill that is as broad as it is long is what mainly distinguishes this bird from other birds.

When they are young, they are brown but as adults, they are dark grey in colour.

Shoebills are not only odd in bill structure and appearance but they also have curious characteristics and habits as listed below.

 

Shoebill Stork Facts

  • Shoebills are the only members of their genus and hammerkops are the only other members of their family.
  • Shoebills do not nest in colonies. They are very solitary usually occurring singly or in pairs.
  • Though the shoebill is called a stork, genetically it is more closely related to ibises, herons, and pelicans.
  • A shoebill’s large shoe shaped bill with a sharp pointed hook at the end will grow up to 8 inches in length. This rather unique bill is adapted for probing lung fish and other prey in the mud.
  • Besides lung fish their favorite food, shoe bills also eat frogs, turtles, small mammals, and young crocodiles.
  • Usually stand with their beaks resting on their chest.
  • They can be found in undisturbed papyrus swamps which have slow flowing poorly oxygenated water. This water encourages their prey to surface above the water level to breathe before they are captured by the shoebill with their razor sharp beaks.
  • Though shoebills usually lay one or two dull white eggs, only one chick survives to adulthood. Usually, the older chick attacks the younger chick.
  • Adult shoebills weigh between 4 and 7 kgs due to their light hollow bones.
  • Shoebills can live up to 35 years in the wild.
  • Shoebills are endemic to Africa
  • Shoebill storks are sexually monomorphic – both males and females look similar.

 

Shoebill stork in action against lungfish

 

In Uganda, this gloomy looking and solitary shoebill stork can be found breeding in the Mabamba swamp along the shores of Lake Victoria. You will often find them slowly wading through the shallow pools just like herons.  The skill with which shoebills cut through mud fish is incredible. They will stand still until suddenly the head darts low to catch the fish. They use their pointed end on the bill as a pair of forceps to stab and to tear their catch. They also use their beaks to clear away grass to expose prey.

 

Unfortunately, this great bird is already critically endangered and once again, we humans are responsible for its declining numbers; it is the swamp reclamation for farming and construction that had destroyed the habitat of these shoebills, which need large areas of undisturbed swamps to interact with their kind and achieve the survival of the species. Remember, only three nests of shoebills can be found per one square kilometer.

Fortunately, healthy populations of the shoebill stork are still present in numerous parts of Uganda with some places having  85 – 95 % chance of view them.

Where can you find shoebill storks  in Uganda?

  • Uganda Wildlife Education Center (UWEC) in Entebbe
  • Mabamba Swamp or wetlands
  • Murchison Falls National Park along the Buligi shore in the delta where the Nile River empties into Lake Albert.
  • Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary
  • Semliki Wildlife Reserve on the southern shores of Lake Albert
  • Queen Elizabeth National Park in the Ishasha sector
  • Nabajuzi Swamp in Masaka district
  • Lake Kyoga
  • Lake Mburo National Park

 

 

After seeing the shoebill stork, you cannot doubt that birds are truly dinosaurs.

What are you waiting for to book your birding trip? We can help you tick the whale-headed shoebill stork and other birds off your bucket list. You won’t believe what you will see. Are you ready to start your Ugandan birding experience? Contact us and pack your binoculars!

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