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 (5), to prevent flooding of the nests (2). One to three eggs are laid in large flat nests built amid swamp grasses (5), and incubated for approximately 30 days (7). 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 (2). It takes three to four years for young to become sexually mature (5) and individuals have been known to live 36 years in captivity (9).
The shoebill usually feeds at night (7), hunting chiefly by ambush, standing motionless waiting for prey, then attacking with remarkable speed and power (5). 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 (5).