The Saddle-billed stork is one of the tallest and vibrantly coloured storks around. With a 13” sharp beak in the same colour scheme as the Ugandan flag, this dashing bird has been named this way due to the yellow saddle-shaped section under its eyes.
It can be quite a hard-to-see soul, preferring rarer places with both tall trees to nest in and wetlands nearby so they can go fishing, frogging, or crabbing. They’ll sometimes vomit water over their nest and eggs to moisten things a bit, crunch and swallow the egg shells of their babies after they’ve hatched for a quick high-calcium snack, and pair with a partner for life. Like the Sacred Ibis, vulture and the Egyptian Geese, they’re also represented in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.
What a fascinating bird. Giddy up, Saddle Bill!
This solitary and elusive Shoebill Stork lives in wetlands in very small pockets around Eastern Africa. Their stealthy movements enable them to stalk and lunge at potential meals of lungfish. Standing at up to 5ft high and with somewhat menacing looks, this bird sure can intimidate! But when personally becoming acquainted with one, as I did this one while sitting next to his bucket of fish inside his enclosure, they are incredibly gentle and endearing characters.
Although this rare bird is called a stork, genetically they have more in common with pelicans and herons. With an imposing beak that ends with a sharp hook, these ambush predators can certainly take a large chunk of fish fillet to go. They are primarily solitary birds, doing what they do best alone unless mating or caring for their young. They exude a no-fuss attitude, with their silent nature, slow and measured steps, and a powerful sense of calm.
I love all animals equally, but a soft spot has definitely been reserved for the Shoebill Stork. Classified as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, they are at a high risk of becoming critically endangered due to continued hunting and habitat loss.
These Marabou storks will hang out near fires to catch tasty creatures fleeing from the inferno so they can have a good meal. Otherwise, these 5ft birds will happily chomp on carrion alongside their vulture, hyena and jackal contemporaries.
Although they could belong in a Batman film with their intimidating, dark looks, they’re either found on the savannah, or rummaging through our filthy piles of rubbish. Head to any rubbish dump- or even polluted city areas, for that matter- and you will find them there. No place for a bird, really. What’s worse, this bird has also been described as the “World’s Ugliest Bird”. I just don’t understand how we can call any creature, human or animal, ugly. It’s beyond me. They may look a little different, defecate on their legs to keep themselves cool, and hang out in dirty places, but that’s just the Marabou being a Marabou, and they play a crucial role in keeping our ecosystems healthy.
Here’s to their part in helping to keep our land free of disease and bacteria, and also gracing our rooftops, like this one was about to do.