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Shoebill Stork: 8 Amazing Facts About These Terrifying Birds

The shoebill stork is a large, frightening bird that looks like something from the pre-historic era

The shoebill stork is known as the ‘world’s most terrifying bird,’ and we can see why!

This large ugly dinosaur-like bird is often referred to as ‘Whalehead’ due to its oversized beak.

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But it’s not just its looks that are hard to believe, it also has a big character to go with it.

LocationEast Africa
DietMainly Fish
Fun FactThey are the cats of the dog world
Other NamesWhalehead
ColorGrey-ish
Life Span35 years
Conservation StatusVulnerable

Shoebill storks are elusive, solitary birds of prey found in and around Uganda. They are often at the top of a birding tourists list.

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They inhabit freshwater swamps and can be observed silently waiting in tall grass for their prey.

Many misconceptions surround the shoebill stork, the most popular (would you believe) being that the shoebill is not actually a stork. Here are some more!

1. Shoebill storks will beat you in a staring contest

Shoebill storks really stand out in the wetlands; they are huge and have enormous beaks which resemble Dutch wooden clogs. They also aren’t as agile as other birds, so their hunting techniques slightly differ from their smaller cousins.

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Shoebills will stand either in the water or another hiding place, virtually motionless for hours on end with their bills placed on their necks. This, along with their bright golden eyes, is a perfect recipe for a chilling death stare. They will wait as long as it takes for the ideal moment to break their cover and capture their prey.

2. How big are shoebill storks? They are absolutely huge

As mentioned before, these birds are enormous. On average, they grow 4 to 5 feet tall and have an impressive wingspan of over 8 feet! They use their large wings to intimidate predators, fly and keep their balance. This is essential as shoebills storks often lose their balance when standing on only two legs.

The shoebill stork has the slowest flap rate of any bird at only 150 flaps per minute, but it works. They fly with their head and neck folded backward, which helps increase aerodynamics and flight duration.

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3. Are shoebill storks actually storks? No, they are in fact more closely related to pelicans

There has been debate among naturalists for centuries regarding where shoebill storks should be placed in the animal family trees. On the one hand, their vocal organ closely resembles that of a heron. Herons belong in the Pelecaniformes, along with pelicans and boobies. Yet, on the other hand, shoebill storks do not have the same specialized feathers that herons have to help with their preening. Therefore they must be storks and belong to the Ciconiiformes family. It is a certainty that a shoebill stork lies in one of these two families, but nobody can agree which one.

4. Shoebill storks are solitary creatures

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Shoebill storks are on their own almost all year round. They live alone, eat alone and the only times they are with others is when they’re mating. Even once a male and female are together, they still hunt and eat separately. It is a scarce sight ever to see two shoebill storks working together.

5. Shoebill storks have a fearsome reputation and have earned it

Shoebill storks will even attack a crocodile if need be. Living in the marsh can be dangerous; there are predators everywhere, and food can be rare. So to adapt to this, they have become aggressive and will fight off both small and large animals. They have no problem attacking an animal bigger than them for any number of reasons, even simply being in their line of sight, including crocodiles.

A Victorian photographer and zoologist named Stanley S. Flower had to learn the hard way how mean and aggressive a shoebill stork can be “The shoebill is capable of inflicting a mighty bite.

6. Shoebill storks are often silent, but can be very loud when needed

Being on their own all the time and being completely silent when hunting, the shoebill stork has no reason to make noise. However, when it comes to mating, they will release a loud call to help attract a partner. The sound is a series of boisterous popping noises that have been compared to the sound of a machine gun.

7. Shoebill storks have huge shoe-shaped beaks

The shoebill storks beak is the 3rd longest out of any species in the world, stretching up 24cm in length and 20cm in width; it can be more than a quarter the size of their bodies. It is shoe-shaped, hence the name ‘shoebill’, and resembles that of a baleen whale hence the nickname ‘Whalehead.’

The shape of their beak has evolved to assist them in eating small fish and other animals in a single gulp. The tip of their beak curves down to form a hook, and it is this sharp curve that is used to pierce through the bodies of their prey.

8. Young shoebill storks will often attack each other

This is more common than you think among larger birds. As they are solitary creatures, they prefer to be alone and therefore have territorial behaviors. When more than one shoebill is born in the same nest, they have been known to compete with each other for their mother’s attention. Commonly, the larger offspring will force the smaller bird to flee from the nest and live independently.

Written by Joe Kahlo

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