Shoebill (Balaeniceps rex)

Shoebill

[order] CICONIIFORMES | [family] Balaenicipitidae | [latin] Balaeniceps rex | [authority] Gould, 1850 | [UK] Shoebill | [FR] Bec-en-sabot du Nil | [DE] Schuhschnabel | [ES] Picozapato | [NL] Schoenbekooievaar

Subspecies

Monotypic species

Genus

The Shoebill, Balaeniceps rex, also known as Whalehead, is a very large -like bird. It derives its name from its massive shoe-shaped bill. This species was only discovered in the 19th century when some skins were brought to Europe. It was not until years later that live specimens reached the scientific community. However, the bird was known to both ancient Egyptians and Arabs. There are Egyptian images depicting the Shoebill, while the Arabs referred to the bird as abu markub, which means one with a shoe, a reference to the bird’s distinctive bill. So far, two fossil relatives of the shoebill have been described: Goliathia from the early Oligocene of Egypt and Paludavis from the Early Miocene of the same country. It has been suggested that the enigmatic African fossil bird Eremopezus was a relative too, but the evidence for th at is very spurious indeed. All that is known of Eremopezus is that it was a very large, probably flightless bird with a flexible foot, allowing it to handle either vegetation or prey. This species was only discovered in the 19th century when some skins were brought to Europe. It was not until years later that live specimens reached the scientific community. However, the bird was known to both ancient Egyptians and Arabs. There are Egyptian images depicting the Shoebill, while the Arabs referred to the bird as abu markub, which means one with a shoe, a reference to the bird’s distinctive bill.

Physical charateristics

The unmistakable, prehistoric-looking shoebill is one of the most impressive birds to be found in Africa. A mysterious inhabitant of impenetrable marshes, this tall wading bird possesses a bluish-grey plumage, long black legs, broad wings and muscular neck, but is undeniably dominated by its fantastically unique ?shoe-like? bill, from which its common name derives. This imposing greenish-brown bill is huge and powerful at a remarkable 23 cm long and 10 cm broad, ending in a ferociously sharp nail-like hook. The eyes are a pale yellow and at the back of the head exists a small hood of feathers.

Listen to the sound of Shoebill

[audio:http://www.planetofbirds.com/MASTER/CICONIIFORMES/Balaenicipitidae/sounds/Shoebill.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto


wingspan min.: 230 cm wingspan max.: 250 cm
size min.: 115 cm size max.: 150 cm
incubation min.: 28 days incubation max.: 32 days
fledging min.: 100 days fledging max.: 120 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 1  
      eggs max.: 3  

Range

Africa : Central. Widely but very locally distributed in large swamps from Sudan to Zambia. Approximate national
totals are estimated to be: southern Sudan (5,000+), Uganda (100-150), Burundi (unknown),
western Tanzania (200-500), Malawi (unknown) and Zambia (<500), Democratic Republic of Congo DRC (<1,000), Central African Republic (irregular), Rwanda (<50) and Ethiopia (<50). In 1997, the population was estimated to be 12,000-15,000 individuals, but a more recent review makes a conservative estimate of 5,000-8,000 individuals. This figure may prove too low, depending on research into the Sudan populations

Habitat

It prefers seasonally flooded marshes with dense vegetation and areas of floating vegetation, often
formed by papyrus

Reproduction

A predominantly solitary species, in which adults come together only to breed. The breeding season is ill-defined, but some evidence suggests that it coincides with the onset of the dry season, to prevent flooding of the nests. One to three eggs are laid in large flat nests built amid swamp grasses, and incubated for approximately 30 days. Young can stand only after two and a half months, and are able to hunt after three and a half, but remain dependent on their parents for food until somewhat older. It takes three to four years for young to become sexually mature and individuals have been known to live 36 years in captivity.

Feeding habits

The shoebill usually feeds at night, hunting chiefly by ambush, standing motionless waiting for prey, then attacking with remarkable speed and power. Prey is grasped from the water in the bird?s sharp, hooked beak, which grips, crushes and pierces in one instant. African lungfish are common prey, alongside a variety of smaller and larger fish, amphibians, water-snakes, lizards, turtles, rats, young waterfowl and even young crocodiles.

Video Shoebill

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PVBnsI0UGM

copyright: Martin Kennewell


Conservation

This rare and localised species is listed as Vulnerable because it is estimated to have a single small population within a broad Extent of Occurrence. The population is undergoing a continuing decline owing to hunting, nesting disturbance and the modification and burning of its habitat.
Not endemic – In Zambia, fire and drought threaten habitat (especially in Bangweulu, where a
decline is apparent), there is some evidence for trapping and persecution, and nests are trampled
by large herbivores feeding in the swamps. Over most of its range, it is threatened by habitat
destruction and degradation, disturbance, hunting, and capture for the bird trade.
Shoebill status Vulnerable

Migration

This species is mostly sedentary, although it may make some movements in order to find optimal feeding habitat as water levels vary. In the southern Sudan there are regular seasonal movements between feeding and breeding zones.

Distribution map

Shoebill distribution range map

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