The shoebill is a large species of bird that has a distinctive bill shape unlike any other. This type of bird can be found in Africa and mainly lives in swamps. Although the shoebill bird looks like a stork, it’s not exactly the same thing as a stork, and scientists have been a little confused about how to classify it for some time. These days, it is listed as part of the Pelecaniformes order, but it hasn’t always been. The shoebill stork is also sometimes called “whale head,” although this is much less common a term than the more widely-used shoebill.
The Shoebill Stork is classified as a giant stork together with Saddle-billed Stork and Marabou Stork. Its taxonomic name is Balaeniceps rex. As mentioned above the Shoebill Stork has a prehistoric look and you can easily picture it together with the dinosaurs. The bird’s most distinct future is its massive bill that has a clog shape and sharp hook at the tip. It is a tall bird measuring around 115 cm.
The Shoebill Stork’s preferred habitat is permanent peaceful swamps where it can be spotted standing watching for fish, wading around or flying slowly above the swamp. It is an ambush feeder that can stand around for a long time in shallow water waiting for prey.
WHERE TO SEE THE SHOEBILL STORK IN UGANDA
Uganda is one of the top locations to see the rare shoebill stork since many of the other locations where it is found are not easy to reach or safe to travel to. The top locations in Uganda to search for the Shoebill Stork are:
- Mabamba Swamp close to Entebbe – Here you commonly go out in a boat with a guide searching the channels in the swamp for the Shoebill Stork and other interesting sights.
- Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary – Here you can either be lucky to spot the shoebill stork from land or go out on a search in a boat.
- The delta of Murchison Falls National Park – Here there is the options to go out in a boat to search for the shoebill or to look for it from the banks.
Since Uganda in some parts is covered in marshes it is also possible to by chance come across a Shoebill Stork in other locations, it even happens that they can be spotted from the highway as you are driving along.
Shoebills are ancient birds that have been recognized by humans all the way back to the time of ancient Egypt. The shoebill was mislabeled as a stork for a long time, but was eventually relocated to the pelican group and is also considered to be somewhat similar to a heron. Shoebill birds lay eggs that are similar to that of a pelican and also share some DNA with pelicans.
The shoebill usually comes in between 40 and 50 inches, although it may be slightly larger than this depending on the individual bird. Male shoebill birds usually weigh around 12 pounds and are a little bit heavier than female shoebills, but not by much. All shoebill birds have massive spoon-like bills and feature grey plumage that is brown when they’re younger. They have a large wingspan meant for soaring and short necks, unlike their stork and pelican relatives. Although their body and wings are shaped somewhat like a condor, shoebills are not related to this type of bird.
Shoebills use their massive, powerful bills to kill and eat their prey, which is usually fish. They may also eat some rodents as well as turtles and smaller birds, but this is not very common. Shoebills clatter their bills to communicate with one another, but may also rarely make mooing sounds like a form of communication as well.
Is the shoebill an endangered species?
- NO! The Shoebill has drastically dropped thus qualifying it a vulnerable species.
The shoebill is a vulnerable species. This means that, while the shoebill is not endangered yet, it is on its way to that point due to habitat destruction and hunting. Conservation efforts are in place to prevent the shoebill from reaching endangered classification.
What is the scientific name of the Shoebill?
- Shoebill’s scientific name = Balaeniceps Rex
The scientific name of the shoebill is Balaeniceps rex. The Balaeniceps genus comes from the family Balaenicipitidae, which includes only the shoebill and the hamerkop. The hamerkop is much smaller than a shoebill and doesn’t look very similar to the shoebill, despite being part of the same family.
Are there different species of shoebill?
- Shoebills do not have different species.
There is only one type of shoebill, but there are two known prehistoric relatives of this type of bird. The first is called Goliathia and was found in Egypt, and the second is called Paludavis and was also found in Egpyt, but fossilized at a different time period. Despite the shoebill descending from both of these relatives, it does not have separate types now, and the shoebill doesn’t even come in more than one colour.
- Shoebills are closely related to pelicans.
The shoebill is very closely related to pelicans, which is why it is sometimes referred to as a shoebill pelican and is classified in the order Pelecaniformes. However, in the past, the shoebill was miscategorized as belonging to the Ciconiiformes order, which includes storks. The shoebill resembles a stork in its structure and shape, and this is why it is also sometimes referred to as the shoebill stork. Some scientists also feel that the shoebill is related to herons, and therefore it can also be known as a shoebill crane.
The Shoebill stork is Earth’s Last Living Dinosaur?
Humans have known about shoebills as long ago as ancient Egypt when they are first referred to in written language. They did not receive a classification until the 1800s, however, when they become known to the West and specifically to Europe. It wasn’t until over a hundred years later that shoebills were reclassified. Today, scientists continue to study fossils and information about shoebills to get a better idea of what they are and how to understand them.
There’s a lot more to learn about shoebills, and this information has really only scratched the surface. Understanding these beautiful shoebill birds is important, and education about these creatures will help in conservation efforts and in preventing the shoebill bird from becoming endangered.
Shoebills are not particularly harmful to humans and there are no confirmed cases of death due to these birds attacking humans, pets, or livestock. They may look scary and have big, intimidating bills, but those bills are only a cause for concern for fish and some small animals. It is important to work to preserve shoebill birds and their habitats so that shoebills can continue thriving in the years to come.
THE EXPERIENCE OF A SHOEBILL STORK SEARCH
In our birding safaris (and other safaris where there is an interest) the most common location to include for a Shoebill Stork search is Mabamba Swamp. This wetland is located a short journey from Entebbe by boat or car so can easily be added in as an extra into any safari itinerary where you are flying in or out from Entebbe. When reaching Mabamba Swamp you are met by a specialised guide who takes you out in the swamp in a small wooden boat. You tour the channels of the swamp in search of the peculiar looking bird and hopefully get a good sighting. At the swamp a birder has the chance to tick off other species like Lesser Jacana, Marsh Harriers, African Pygmy-goose and Whistling Ducks.