Ugandan Birds: The Shoebill

shoe bill stork in a swamp in uganda

The shoebill (Balaeniceps rex) is a unique bird and is one of the world’s most rare birds found in the Pearl of Africa that is Uganda.

As its appearance shows this “Whale headed Stork” was once thought to be a relative of the storks but its ability to fly with its neck retracted suggests affinity with pelicans or heroines.

Did you know the name shoebill most probably came from the Arabic word “Abu markub” which means one with a shoe? This refers to the bill of the bird. According to the Beastly Countdown on Animal planet,the bird has the distinction of being number one ugliest creature on earth.

The shoebill is generally grey and white when they mature to adult birds but younger juvenile ones are browner in appearance. It measures about four feet tall and weighs more than 12 pounds! They have very powerful wings which enable them to be swift as if flies or dives to get its prey.

The shoebill is a native to the tropics of East Africa but can also be found in the swamp regions of Sudan as well as Zambia.

In Uganda it is easily seen in Mabamba Swamp on Lake Victoria (A half an hour’s drive from Entebbe International Airport), on the Nile below the Murchison’s falls and Lake Albert in Semliki Wildlife Reserve.

You can drive to all these sites, but often you might need boat to find the bird itself. It is important that you have a guide who knows the exact locations on the Nile where to find them at a reasonably close distance.

The shoebill is currently considered as vulnerable specie of bird by the Bird Life international due to the fact that the natural habitat of the bird is being destroyed by modernization of many areas through the reclamation of swamps as well as hunting of these species.

Shoebills primarily live in pairs “male & female” although groups may sometimes gather at favoured feeding spots. These favorite sites change over time.

The birds like to hunt in muddy and murky waters and favors fish such as lung fish though it can also hunt for other types of fish. The bill has a major hook at the tip to help the bird attack its prey.

shoe bill stork

Shoebills look sluggish and can stand motionless for long periods as it waits for it’s prey. They usually stand in the waters and wait for something to cross their path.

They can walk very slowly through the murky waters with their bill in the waters for as long as 30minutes but if something comes along it simply thrust its body forward and grabs it with its distinctive bill.