THE SHOEBILL- The prehistoric-looking bird
COMMON NAME: Shoebills
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Balaeniceps rex
AVERAGE LIFE SPAN IN THE WILD: 35 years
AVERAGE LIFE SPAN IN CAPTIVITY: 50 years
SIZE: 3.5 to five feet tall
WEIGHT: 11 pounds to 12 pounds
What is a shoebill? Name, features, and feeding
The shoebill bird (Balaeniceps rex) is a large stork-like bird. It is a water bird confined to a rather restricted set of extensive wetlands of Eastern and central tropical Africa. They prefer freshwater wetlands of reeds, papyrus, and grass and they are usually referred to as “Kings of the Marshes”.
The shoebill is so unique with a foot-long bill that resembles the Dutch Clog shoes with a hook at the end of the bill and sharp edges. The bill is a special one when it comes to grabbing prey like lungfish, catfish, tilapia, eels, frogs, and toads even snakes. These are major prey for the shoebill but it is also capable of feeding on baby crocodiles and monitor lizards.
Shoebills are humble and at first sight, they don’t seem like they can ambush their prey. They reach up to 5 feet tall with grey feathers, a small crest at the back of the head, yellow eyes, and long thin legs that are ideal for walking in the marsh. The prehistoric-looking bird can stay motionless for hours as it times prey. The prey usually notices when it’s too late and this makes it a lethal hunter. The technique is called “collapsing” as it falls forward on the prey.
Formerly, shoebills belonged to the stork family but now they are in their own family and no longer called Shoebill storks, despite them sharing traits with herons and other storks.
Shoebills are mature at the age of 3 to 4 years and a breeding pair is monogamous. They are solitary breeders and very territorial. Breeding time for shoebills usually varies and depends on the location but mostly happens during the dry season. It is a 6-7 months cycle. The shoebill lays about 3 eggs, normally two but at the end of the cycle, one chick is left due to predation, food availability, and care by parents. This is why their numbers are few compared to most water birds. Shoebills are non-migratory birds provided a good foraging environment exists. They usually make seasonal movements between nesting and feeding zones.
There is an estimate of 3300 to 5300 shoebills in the world and the population of these incredible birds is going down. The IUCN lists shoebills as a threatened species and the biggest threat are habitat loss. Marshes and wetlands are being rapidly being destroyed for agriculture, also competition for food with the fishermen. In Uganda, the shoebill can be sighted in different locations and these include:-
- Mabamba Wetland
- Murchison falls national park (A boat trip to the delta)
- Uganda Wildlife Education center
- Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary
- Lutembe Bay
- Queen Elizabeth National park
You can include a shoebill trek on your itinerary today, you can contact us.