The Shoebill (Balaeniceps rex) is a giant gray bird that looks like a massive stork (up to 5 feet tall), except that its beak is like a Dutch wooden clog with sharp edges and a hooked tip. The beak is excellently adapted to catch fish. Despite the Shoebill’s bulky appearance, it can soar very high with its neck tucked in like a heron.
Shoebill sexes are alike, but females are slightly smaller. Breeding birds make a hollow reverberating hammering sound, donkey-like brays and pig-like squeals. It is a long-lived bird, and pairs usually only raise one chick per breeding season.
Distribution & Habitat
Distributed in dense freshwater swamps and marshes of Central Africa, the Shoebill is nowhere common, preferring remote, secluded and extensive permanent swamps of eastern central tropical Africa. The Shoebill occurs from South Sudan and Ethiopia in the north to northern Zambia in the south. It is resident in South Sudan, Western Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, Western Tanzania and Northern Zambia, with records also from the Central African Republic, Burundi and Kenya.
The Shoebill prefers large freshwater swamps of grasses, reeds and papyrus, and is well adapted to floating vegetation. However, it avoids areas of swamp that are thickly vegetated, and requires open areas, especially for foraging and breeding. It feeds mainly on fish, especially larger fish that surfaces for air in stagnant waters, such as lungfish and catfish.
Shoebills are threatened by the live bird trade. They are valuable birds, and the almost complete absence of breeding success in captivity maintains a constant pressure on the wild population for meeting trade demands. Trade in the Shoebill is currently banned in all Range States, but instances of illegal trade are still recorded. Shoebills are highly sensitive birds, and past exports have involved high mortality during capture, transit and captivity.