10 cool things about the shoebill stork

A shoebill stork has such an interesting bill. If you’re lucky, you might find a shoebill stork in swamps and marshlands in East Africa. Let’s find out what the cool things are of this bird.

1. What’s in the name?

When you take a closer look at the shoebill stork, you’ll realise why he has this peculiar name – his bill looks like an old Dutch clog. But that is not all that he looks like. His beak also looks like a whale’s head – hence the other names this bird is also known as: whalehead and whale-headed stork.

2. Prehistoric

Looking at the bird, you’ll be forgiven for thinking that he has a prehistoric past. Maybe it’s because of his huge bill with the funny markings on, paired with small eyes, that give him his ancient look. It also depends from which angle you look at him. His beak is 24cm long and 20cm wide. We couldn’t find any evidence, though, that this bird belongs with the dinosaurs.

3. Patient. Very patient

This bird has perfected the art of being patient. He mainly hunts at night in the water where there are patches of grass, waiting for the moment his prey comes up for air. He will wait, and wait, and wait… When lungfish, catfish, eels or even snakes try to take a breath, he will lunge forward and grab the prey with his huge bill.

4. Brave birds

Don’t stand in this bird’s line of sight when he hunts, because he might just attack you. He may be patient, but he is not afraid of anything. He will even attack Nile crocodiles! Oh, have I mentioned? The shoebill stork eats baby crocodiles for breakfast.

If an animal attacks this bird, he will fight back. It doesn’t necessarily mean that he will win, but with a sharp hook on the end of his huge beak, chances are that the other animal can get seriously injured.

5. Sibling rivalry

The shoebill stork is a solitary animal who wants to be left alone. Even as a chick, he wants everything for himself. He will fight his other siblings in the nest for his mother’s attention, to the point that the other birds might leave the nest.

6. Silent stalker

You would expect this huge bird, who will attack anybody who comes in his way, to be loud, and he is during the mating season. But when it comes to hunting, he is as quiet as he is patient. He also moves very slowly and has often been described as a statue just standing there.

7. Old bird

Not only does he look like a dinosaur, but he can also get really old, compared to the average bird – in nature, the shoebill can reach up to 35 years. Maybe it is due to his patient behaviour, or vicious fighting skills?

8. Why the long feet?

The shoebill stork is tall – ranging between 1 and 1.5m high – and he weighs between 4 and 7kg. His feet are ideal for standing in the marshlands for extended periods of time and to carry his weight. His feet are also exceptionally long, especially his middle toe, which can reach 16.8-18.5cm – the average length of a pencil.

9. Huge wings

He is one of the slowest-flying birds and only does an estimated 150 flaps per minute. Mostly, he won’t fly further than between 100 and 150m far, which is quite interesting, if you take into consideration that this bird has a huge wingspan of 2.2-2.6m.

10. We are family

Contrary to what their name suggests, shoebill storks are actually closer related to pelicans and herons than what they are to storks. Interestingly, it was recently discovered that the shoebill is a close relative of the hamerkop.


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