110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
By Lynn Bowen
posted Feb 24, 2013 - 3:59:43pm
The shoebill stork is indeed odd. The 12-pound male is 55 inches tall, and the 11-pound female is slightly shorter. This gray bird has a bill shaped like a huge old Dutch wooden shoe that is tan with gray markings.
One of its nicknames is "whalehead," and another is "Goliath heron." No one seems certain if this bird is really a stork or if it is related to a heron or a pelican.
The shoebill stork is tall, its legs are long and skinny like those of wading birds, and its feet are large. Its feathers are dark gray. The bird has a 100-inch wingspan, but would rather walk than fly. Observers say they are good at flying, but seem reluctant to do so.
They are unsocial birds that are quite solitary, even at mating time. They stay together for a very brief time, and then head their separate ways, taking no time for lovey-dovey silliness.
However, both the male and female shoebill storks build a nest of about 5 feet in diameter from aquatic vegetation, on a floating platform that is about 10 feet across. The female lays one to three eggs, and after 30 days of incubation, she will raise just the strongest chick, although she has a "backup" chick in case the strong one dies. I told you these were odd birds!
The youngsters cry for food with a hiccup sound, and the mother shoebill stork, who is usually silent, will answer with bill-clacking or a soft "moo."
From my research, I learned that shoebill storks tend to be docile around humans.
These birds are classified as vulnerable. Between 5,000 and 8,000 of them live in East Africa, only in dense, freshwater marshes and swamps. They eat large fish and snakes.
I had never seen a TV show, magazine article or anything else on this interesting, prehistoric-looking bird, and was amazed when I saw one at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo. Only a few zoos in the world have shoebill storks, and this zoo has four.
— Bowen lives in DeLand. Send email to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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