The shoebill (Balaeniceps rex) also known as whale head, whale-headed stork, or shoe-billed stork, is a very large stork-like bird. It derives its name from its enormous shoe-shaped bill.
It has a somewhat stork-like overall form and has previously been classified with the storks in the order Ciconiiformes based on this morphology. However, genetic evidence places it with the PelecaniKformes.
The adult is mainly grey while the juveniles are browner. It lives in tropical East Africa in large swamps.
The shoebill is a tall bird, with a typical height range of 110 to 140 cm (43 to 55 in) and some specimens reaching as much as 152 cm (60 in).
Length from tail to beak can range from 100 to 140 cm (39 to 55 in) and wingspan is 230 to 260 cm (7 ft. 7 in to 8 ft. 6 in). Weight has reportedly ranged from 4 to 7 kg (8.8 to 15.4 lb.).
A male will weigh on average around 5.6 kg (12 lb.) and is larger than a typical female of 4.9 kg (11 lb.). The signature feature of the species is its huge, bulbous bill, which is straw-colored with erratic greyish markings.
The exposed culmen (or the measurement along the top of the upper mandible) is 18.8 to 24 cm (7.4 to 9.4 in), the third longest bill among extant birds after pelicans and large storks, and can outrival the pelicans in bill circumference, especially if the bill is considered as the hard, bony keratin portion.
As in the pelicans, the upper mandible is strongly keeled, ending in a sharp nail. The dark coloured legs are fairly long, with a tarsus length of 21.7 to 25.5 cm (8.5 to 10.0 in).
The shoebill’s feet are exceptionally large, with the middle toe reaching 16.8 to 18.5 cm (6.6 to 7.3 in) in length, likely assisting the species in its ability to stand on aquatic vegetation while hunting.
The neck is relatively shorter and thicker than other long-legged wading birds such as herons and cranes. The wings are broad, with a wing chord length of 58.8 to 78 cm (23.1 to 30.7 in)
facts about the shoebill
- A shoe bill’s broad wings may span up to 2.5 meters from tip to tip well adapted to soaring. Its flapping rate of approximately 150 flaps per minute is among the slowest of any bird.
- Shoebills are specialist predators of lungfish. Their distribution through tropical East Africa seems to coincide with the availability of these fish – and also with papyrus reed beds, which is their preferred nesting habitat.
- A shoebill often benefit from living alongside hippos. These huge amphibious mammals bulldoze channels through papyrus swamps, allowing shoe bills access to otherwise inaccessible feeding areas. They also force fish to the surface, making them easier for the bird to capture.
- Shoebills take a wide variety of prey in addition to fish, including frogs, snails, water snakes, turtles, waterbirds and baby crocodiles. There is even an unconfirmed report of shoe bills feeding on a baby lechwe antelope.
- A shoebill may hatch two or more chicks, but seldom raise more than one. Stronger chicks will bully their weaker siblings, depriving them of food and sometimes killing them outright. This brutal practice also occurs among eagles. The younger chicks are a form of insurance: back-ups in case the eldest fails to survive.
In Uganda, this unique bird can be spotted in Murchison falls National park, Mabamba swamp on lake Victoria, Lake mburo National park, Toro-Semuliki game reserve, Makanaga swamp, Lwera swamp (along masaka road), Ishasha sector, Lugogo swamp (Ziwa Rhino sanctuary) and Uganda Wildlife Education Center Entebbe.
spotting the shoe bill on a safari in Uganda makes it a memorable experience.
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