At first glance, the shoebill as seen in the photo on the right, come across as a strange looking bird. So, to get you better acquainted with this unusual bird, I have outlined all there is to know about the shoebill encompassing basic facts and distinctive features as well as weird behaviors. Therefore, when you are done reading this post, the shoebill will not hold any more secrets!
The name, shoebill, comes from its shoe-shaped bill. However, the scientific name of the shoebill is Balaeniceps Rex, which was given by Gould in 1850, and means King whale-head. The shoebill has other names, such as the shoe-billed stork because it looks like a stork. However, the shoebill is sharing many features with the pelicans and herons.
However, when I look at the shoebill, I find that it looks like a bird made up of spare parts! No, really, the beak seems to come from a pelican, the legs from a flamingo and the head from an eagle! Take a closer look at the picture on the right and you’ll see what I mean! Do you see it?
The Shoebill’s Snapshot!
- Height: 43-55 inches (110-140 cm).
- Length from tail to beak: 39-55 inches (100-140 cm).
- Weight: 11-12 lbs (4.9-5.4 Kg).
- Wingspan: 7.7-8.6 ft (230-260 cm).
- Gestation period: 30 days.
- Lifespan in the wild: 35 years.
The shoebill’s population is between 5,000-8,000 in Africa. The shoebill is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN red list of threatened species, mainly because of its loss of habitat and poaching.
The King Whale-Head can be found in the following countries: in southern Sudan, in eastern Congo, Uganda, northern Zambia, western Tanzania, and Botswana.
The habitat of the shoebill includes the swamps, the marshes, and the wetlands, which are inaccessible areas, making the shoebill an elusive bird and the most sought-after by the ornithologists and the bird enthusiasts often going on a bird watching safari in Africa to catch a glimpse of the shoebill!
One of the distinctive features of the shoebill is without a doubt, the enormous bill. The shoebill possess the biggest beak amongst all the birds on earth! The bill as I mentioned earlier has the shape of a shoe and the length that can reach up to 9 inches (24 cm) by 4 inches (10 cm) wide. The beak harbors gray markings.
The sharp edges of the beak are quite useful to guillotine their prey, whereas the nail which has a hook shape and is found at the extremity of the beak is used to kill the prey!
Another characteristic that stands out when you look at the shoebill is, its large feet! The middle toe has a length of 6.6 to 7.3 inches (16.8-18.5 cm) which helps with the shoebill’s balance, especially during hunting since it stands motionless for extended periods of time.
The diet of the shoebill includes many species of fishes such as its favorite dish, the lungfish, but also other species like the tilapia and the catfish. However, its diet is not limited to fishes and also comprises amphibians, snakes, lizards, rodents and baby crocodiles!
The shoebill prefers to hunt at night and uses the ambush technique to catch its prey. Therefore, the King whale-head usually stands over the floating vegetation or on the bank of swamps and waits for the fish. Since the water is poorly oxygenated, the fish has to resurface to catch a gulp of air, and at that precise moment, the shoebill strikes with incredible speed and accuracy!
Because of the bird’s ability to stand motionless while it hunts, the shoebill has earned the nickname of “statue-like” bird. So, if you are lucky enough to find the shoebill while on a bird watching safari, you will be able to capture great close-up pictures!
Some Fascinating Behaviors
First off, the shoebill is known to be a silent bird. The only time the adult bird emits sounds are during the mating season by making bill-clattering sounds. As for the young chicks, they will make their presence known when they are hungry and through sounds that resemble hiccups.
The shoebill is by nature a solitary bird as opposed to the heron and the pelican which are living in a colony setting. The nests of the shoebill are far apart from each other; there are in fact only three nests per square kilometer!
The shoebill lays 1-3 eggs on a nesting platform made of vegetation. The size of the platform is about 3.1 to 3.5 ft (1 to 1.7 m) and is often submerged in water at a depth up to 9.8 ft (3 m). Amazingly, the nesting platform is extremely sturdy since it can withstand a weight equivalent to an adult man!
Even though the shoebills lay up to 3 eggs, they predominantly take care of the egg that was the first to hatch, and keep the other birds as a backup plan in the event of the demise of the older chick!
Of course, this leads to sibling rivalry, where the first-born abuses the younger siblings to affirm further its position! Usually, only one of the offsprings makes it to adulthood!
The shoebill resembles a prehistoric creature that most bird enthusiasts are seeking while on a bird watching safari in Africa.
The beak with its shoe-like shape is the most striking feature of the King Whale-Head and is predominantly used for hunting various prey.
If you are interested in going on a bird watching adventure to catch a glimpse of the elusive shoebill as well as other fascinating birds along the way, click here to find out where to go for bird watching safari in Africa.
If you have any inquiries about the shoebill, please leave a comment below. I will get back to you promptly.