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Marabou Stork (Leptoptilos crumenifer)

It is a large, morbid-looking stork, with a huge pointed bill, bare, seemingly burned, pink head and neck. This bird flies seamlessly as it searches for food, displaying its conspicuous white belly. As opportunistic feeders, they are often seen near carrions, and kills of terrestrial predators, patiently waiting to grab some scraps. Otherwise, they occur in waste dumps and around humans to scavenge food.

Read further to know more about the Marabou Stork.

What is a Marabou Stork?

Marabou Stork (Leptoptilos crumenifer) is often regarded as one of the ugliest birds on the planet due to its morphological features, making it easily repulsive at initial sight. Yet, it is a huge, powerful wading bird, belonging in the subfamily Leptoptilini under the family Ciconiidae. Moreover, this highly gregarious bird is a vital scavenger, like the vultures, clearing nature from waste, carrion, and rotting materials, preventing the spread of diseases.

Its seven levels of classification are as follows:

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Order: Ciconiiformes

Family: Ciconiidae

Genus: Leptoptilos

Species: L. crumenifer

Marabou Stork Physical Description

Marabou Stork is a large stork, growing from 45.2 to 59.8 inches or 115 to 152 centimeters, weighing 4 to 9 kilograms, with a wingspan of 88.5 to 112.2 inches or 225 to 285 centimeters.

This bird has a darkish gray to blackish upperparts, wings, and tail. The underparts are white and contrast the blackish underwings. Bald head and neck range from pinkish to reddish, with a scanty bunch of whitish, wooly down and hair. The skin on the head is immensely pigmented, which serves to be a protection against blistering. However, it can suffer from infection, should the marabou stork incur injuries or wounds as it thrusts its head inside the carcasses of huge animals.

A distinct pink to red air sac or throat patch hangs down the foreneck. While a second bag, though smaller and less noticeable, is found at the hindneck’s base, hidden in the white feathery tuft. Meanwhile, eyes are dark-brown while the dagger-like bill has a grayish to off-white tone. Legs and feet are actually dark grayish, though, it may look whitish as it is often covered in excretions and urine, to help marabou storks regulate their body temperature.

Both sexes look similar, but males are relatively larger. During the breeding period, males acquire white-tipped wing tetrices, and air pouches become larger and redder throughout the season. Juveniles or immatures birds have a smaller bill, paler plumage, and are covered with more wooly feathers on the head and neck.

Where can they be spotted?

Marabou Storks thrive in aquatic, open, semi-arid habitats, such as savannas, wetlands, and grasslands. It can only occur near garbage dumps and fishing villages. These birds occur in tropical Africa, from Senegal to Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Namibia, and down to South Africa.

Interesting Facts You Should Know About the Marabou Stork

Marabou Stork feeds mainly on carrion, scraps, and waste products. Other food items it consumes include locusts, termites, lizards, frogs, mice, snakes, smaller birds, and mammals. Around carcasses, it patiently waits around vultures, hyenas, and other predators, scavenging or snatching any scraps dropped on the ground. While their huge bill may seem intimidating, it has not evolved to cut or slice flesh and mainly used for pulling meat inside carcasses.

When not feeding, these birds can be seen either resting in a hunched position with their tarsi flat on the ground or standing motionless, a typical behavior among many stork species. During flight, they use air thermals to get their needed lift and efficiently soar into the air, flying elegantly with their massive wings.

Marabou Storks breeding season is associated with the dry period when water levels are declining. Such occurrences make it easier for them to hunt amphibians and fish to feed their offspring. These birds are colonial breeders, occurring from 20-60 pairs, rarely up to thousands.

These birds place their nest in tall trees, or on cliffs, and buildings depending on their range. Both sexes construct the nest using sticks, with a shallow cup lined with green leaves and twigs. The egg-laying season happens from May to January, peaking in June and September.

The female marabou stork lays a clutch of 2 to 3 eggs, which both sexes will incubate for about 30 days. After hatching, the broods will be fed by both parents through regurgitation. Chicks will fledge after 95 to 115 days hatching but will remain under parental care for another four months. Juveniles reach sexual maturity at 4 to 5 years of age.

Marabou Stork is abundant and common throughout its range. The species number is increased as they have benefitted from the surging rubbish produced by humans. Moreover, their morbid appearance makes them less likely to be killed by hunters. They are currently classified as Least Concern (LC) under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

WILDLIFE PARKS AND RESERVES WHERE THIS SPECIES IS FOUND:

 BOTSWANA

Chobe National Park

Linyanti Swamp

Makgadikgadi Pan

Mashatu Game Reserve

Okavango Delta

Moremi Game Reserve

Savute

SOUTH AFRICA

Hluhluwe Game Reserves

Kruger National Park

St Lucia Wetlands

NAMIBIA

Caprivi Region

Etosha National Park

ZAMBIA

Kafue

Lechwe Plains

Lower Zambezi

South Luangwa

Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park

ZIMBABWE

Gona-re-Zhou

Hwange

Lake Kariba

Mana Pools

Matobo Hills

Victoria Falls

 

Marabou Stork
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