Marabou stork (Leptoptilos crumeniferus)
|Also known as:||Marabou|
|Size||Length: 1.5 m (2)|
|Weight||8.9 kg (2)|
Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).
With its huge, ungainly stature, balding pink head and enormous wedge-shaped bill, it is easy to see why many consider the Marabou stork to be a somewhat ‘ugly’ bird (2) (3) (4) (5). In flight, it soars elegantly with large, dark grey wings spanning almost three metres from tip to tip, but on the ground it walks hunched on long, gangly legs (3) (6). A fleshy, inflatable, pink wattle dangles conspicuously below its bill, and a white collar rings the base of its nearly featherless, pink neck (2) (3) (4). The back and tail are dark grey, like the wings, while the underparts are off-white (2) (4) (6). Although the natural colour of the legs and feet is dark grey, the build up of excrement makes them appear almost white (2) (5). Unlike the adults, immature marabou storks have a woolly covering to the head, and a darker plumage (5) (7).
The marabou stork has a wide distribution through sub-Saharan Africa, from Senegal east to Eritrea and south to Natal in South Africa (2) (4).
Inhabits open savannas, swamps, river margins and lake shores, and is often seen around human settlements (2) (4) (8).
Behaving more like a vulture than a stork, the marabou is a consummate scavenger, eating just about any animal it can find as carrion (2) (3) (5). Typically, it soars at height, scanning the ground for food, and often congregates around large carcasses with other scavengers such as vultures (2) (5) (6) (7). Furthermore, this species has taken full advantage of the encroachment of human settlements, frequenting dumps, slaughterhouses and fishing villages for discarded scraps (2) (3) (5). However, despite its slightly macabre reputation, the marabou does also take a variety of live prey including lizards, frogs, various insects, snakes, rats, mice and birds (5) (6) (8).
A gregarious bird, the marabou stork is often seen in groups, with up to 1,000 individuals gathering in close proximity to roost at night (8). It also congregates to breed during the dry season, with colonies ranging in size from 20 pairs up to several thousand, often along with other species. The male arrives first and establishes a territory, whereupon it greets all newcomers with hostility, whilst inflating its throat pouch. Eventually, a courting female will be accepted by the male, and the pair will set about building a stick nest, around 10 to 30 metres above the ground in trees or on cliffs-ledges, and sometimes on buildings in towns and villages (2) (4) (5) 8). When the nest is finished, the female lays a clutch of two to three eggs, which are incubated over 29 to 31 days. The chicks fledge when around 13 to 15 weeks old, but do not reach sexual maturity until at least four years of age (4) (5).
Owing to its indiscriminate feeding habits and its willingness to scavenge around human activities, the marabou stork population is actually increasing through large parts of its wide range (3) (5). However, despite the fact that it is usually considered an unattractive target for hunters (5), this stork is known to be traded at traditional markets in Nigeria (8).
The marabou stork occurs in several large protected areas across its range (1) (7) (8).
To find out more about conservation in Africa, visit:
- African Wildlife Foundation:
For more information on this and other bird species please see:
- BirdLife International:
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- Incubated: the act of incubating eggs, that is, keeping them warm so that development is possible.
IUCN Red List (October, 2009)
- Alden, P., Estes, R., Schlitter, D. and McBride, B. (1996) Collins Field Guide to African Mammals. Harper Collins Publishers, London.
- Burnie, D. (2001) Animal. Dorling Kindersley, London.
- Burton, M. and Burton, R. (2002) International Wildlife Encyclopedia. Marshall Cavendish, New York.
Smithsonian National Zoological Park (September, 2009)
- Liebenberg, L. (1990) A Field Guide to the Animal Tracks of Southern Africa. David Phillips Publishers, Cape Town.
- Newman, K. (2002) Newman's Birds of Southern Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
BirdLife International (August, 2009)