Shoebill stork is one of the fascinating bird being habited in Uganda that has got quite a number of travelers traversing Uganda in search of the bird. Shoebill storks are mainly found in the tropical areas of East Africa that is Sudan, Uganda, the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, and these areas harbor approximately 5,000 – 8,000 individuals of shoebills. Shoebill storks are considered to be one of the most desirable birds to bird watching tourists in Africa. According to bird life international, these fascinating birds have been certified vulnerable due to numerous threats which are practiced by man for example destruction of their habitats, disturbance and being hunted for eggs and meat.
Shoebill storks are known to be ancient to Egyptians and Arabs which was classified in the 19th century after their skins were taken to Europe for testing. John Gould a scientist more knowledgeable in birds describes the bird in 1850 naming it Balaeniceps rex which comes from a Latin word Balena.
A shoebill stork weighing from 4 kilograms to 7 kilograms is a tall bird with a height ranging from 110 centimeters to 43 centimeters with length ranging from 100 to 140 centimeters between a tail and beak and wings are from 6 ft. to 8 ft. Male shoebill storks are larger than female shoebill storks with a weighted average of 5.6 kilograms and female with an average weight of 4.9 kilograms. shoebill storks have a straw-colored bulbous bill with erratic greyish markings which is their signature feature which is the third-longest bill amongst extant birds after pelicans and large storks, the exposed culmen of shoebill storks along the top of the upper mandible is between 18 cm to 24 cm. the mandibles of shoebill stork are strongly keeled with a sharp nail like ending which they use to attack and eat the fresh of their prey and also look them in muddy swamps.
Shoebill storks are aquatic birds with fairly dark-colored long legs with a tarsus of length range of 21.7- 25.5 cm, their feet are large consisting of along the middle toe of 16.8-18.5 cm which enables them to stay in waterlogged swamps while hunting for prey. Shoebill storks are well-adopted to soaring, their necks are relatively shorter and thicker when compared to fellow long-legged wading birds for example herons, and their wings are broad with a chord length of 58.8 to 78 cm. An adult shoebill stork feathers are blue-grey in color with a combination of darker salty grey flight feathers while the young ones have the same color on their bundle of feathers but slightly different as their feathers are darker grey with brown tinge. The size of bills also defer according to age, at a tender first day like 23 days the bill is less noticeable as they are of moderate size but as they mature the bill becomes larger that is by 43 days (a month and 8 days) they bill is well developed and very noticeable.
While flying shoebill storks rise high in the air and as they do their necks are kept in the retracted position, in the flying pattern of a shoe bill stork involves flapping and gliding, they make approximately 150 flaps per minute but depends on the size of the shoebill. As they fly shoe bill storks try not to exceed 330ft. too 1640 ft. in the sky. Shoebill storks have distinctive features that make them be easily identified from other bird species, for example, their grey medium blue-grey feathers, their size, wingspan, extended straight back which is far past their tail while in flight. A shoebill’s tail is of the same color as the wings. shoebill storks are very sensitive to human disturbance which can cause them to abandon their nest, they are fond of living in poorly oxygenated waters purposely to feed on fish who surface to breathe. shoebill storks have slow movements, tend to stay still for long period of time and have ability to stand on floating vegetation and aquatic vegetation regardless of their size, they feed in muddy waters they attack their prey slow and patiently without them noticing (they mostly feed on marbled lungfish, Senegal bichir, tilapia, catfish, frogs, water snakes, snails, and many more water animals).
Shoebill storks stay in nests as their homes during night times and as breeding areas for their young ones, three nests are built per square kilometer, the breeding territory of about (0.77 to 1.54 sq. Miles) are heavily defended by pair of shoebills. Breeding territory found in extreme north and south nesting begins immediately rain ends and in central regions nesting begins when the wet season is about to end so as the hatching happens around the beginning of the following wet season. The nests are made out of aquatic vegetation and they are about 1 to 1.7 meters wide. Female shoebill storks lay from 1 to three eggs, these eggs are white on color of 3.1 to 3.5 inches, they weigh approximately 164 grams and it takes 30 days for the eggs to fully incubate. The process of brooding, shading, feeding and guarding the nestling (young shoebills) but the female are more actively engaged in the process as they regurgitate food from their gullets straight to young one’s bill, nestling chicks is done for 105 days and by 112 days the chicks can fly nut they are feed more for a month and possibly beyond that until they sexually mature. shoebill storks are fond of raring only one chick and it is rare to find them with more than one though they hatch more.
Shoebill storks are normally silent birds but the give out sounds at different occasions for example when engaging in displays adults engage in the bill-clattering as means of communication during nestling. They also give cow-like moo and high pitched whines. Young ones give out human-like hiccups when they are begging for food and they make hoarse croaks to demonstrate their aggressive.
Shoebill storks in Uganda are found in various locations that are easily accessible by the tourists who love birds, these locations include Murchison Falls National Park, Mabamba swamp, Queen Elizabeth national park at around the southern end of Lake Edward, Lake Mburo National Park and Semuliki national park. These locations are filled with scenic of nature, flora and fauna which adds up to your experience. Apart from shoebill storks, Uganda is home to over 200 bird species which can be spotted on your safari to Uganda and this makes Uganda be one of the unique bird paradises in the world.
Shoebill storks have fascinating features which make them more attractive than other birds in the wilderness
- Regardless of their size that is 1.5 meters tall and weighs approximately 7 kg, shoebills storks can fly but they rarely participate in long flights.
- shoebill storks have an enormous shoe-shaped bill, their bills measure up to 9 inches long and 4 inches wide, they are sharp like a razor which helps them strike their prey.
- shoebill storks have long toes with no webbing, the toes help them to balance in the swampy vegetation
- shoebill storks usually give birth to two chicks but the only one who proves to be the strongest survives
- shoebill storks usually have a slight identity crisis, they share more traits with herons and pelicans that is why at times they look like storks.
- They are fond of hiding in vegetation which is taller than them
- Shoebills’ life span is more than 35 years
- shoebill storks lay eggs at the interval of three to five days
- Parent shoe bills take turns in incubating the eggs which last for 30 days, if the eggs get too hot the adult drops water to cool them.
- Young shoebill storks take three to four years to reach reproductive maturity