Animal of the Month
December 2022

Name: Shoebill Stork

Class: Aves
Order: Pelecaniformes
Family: Balaenicipitidae
Genus: Balaeniceps
Species: B. rex

Tall body, long neck, large slightly curved bill.

Weight: About 12 pounds, males weighing more than females.
Size: Typically 45-50 inches tall.
Color(s): Dark gray feathers with white; yellow bill; black legs.
Behavior: Territorial, ambush predator.
Preferred Habitat: Swamps and marshes.
Range: Tropical areas of central Africa, including Uganda, Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania.
Diet: Various aquatic animals including fish, turtles, lizards, snakes and young crocodiles.
Lifespan: 35 years, longer in captivity.

Status: Vulnerable

Did you know that dinosaurs never technically went extinct? There is a diverse and beautiful branch of animals that evolved from dinosaurs called avian dinosaurs. In other words, birds! Every species of bird is considered a dinosaur, but few show off their inner dinosaur like the shoebill stork! Also called a whalebill or whale-headed stork, this modern dinosaur stalks the swamps and wetlands of central Africa.

Shoebills resemble dinosaurs more so than others because of their size. They grow to be up to four feet tall! Their feet also are reminiscent of theropods (meat eating dinosaurs), and their gurgling calls sound like their straight out of Jurassic Park!

Shoebills are carnivorous, hunting many small animals including snakes, baby crocodiles, turtles, small mammals, and others. They are known for patiently waiting and then striking with their sharp, signature shoe-shaped bill. Like most bird species, they are capable of flight, but are not strong fliers. In fact, they make about 150 flaps per minute, one of the slowest of all birds!

Shoebills usually live alone except for mating. They are protective of their territory, which ranges around 2-4 square kilometers, and will react aggressively to other shoebills. A female will make a nest of swamp grass and lay two eggs. After hatching, the babies will remain in mother's care until around 130 days, when they are old enough to fend for themselves.

Shoebill storks are currently listed as vulnerable. It is estimated that between 5,000 to 8,000 individuals remain in the wild. This is due to a combination of habitat destruction, poaching, illegal capture and agriculture. They are not endangered, but if this trend continues, they soon will be.

Fortunately, people are starting to take notice and are trying to make changes. Shoebills are listed in Appendix II of CITES, which limits trade of the animal. BirdLife also has an action plan to help protect the shoebills, and Save the Shoebill is a Ugandan-run non-profit that funds local environmental projects. Non-avian dinosaurs may be extinct, but if we work together, there's no reason the shoebill has to follow the same path.

To learn more about these epic modern dinosaurs, follow the links below!

Save the Shoebill-Based in Uganda, dedicated to running projects that protect the shoebill!

BirdLife, Shoebill Page-Check out what BirdLife has done and continues to do for the shoebill!

Shoebillbird.org-Calling the shoebill "the most terrifying bird in the world", this site is run by a group of shoebill fanatics who want to tell the world about how awesome this bird is!



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