|Photo by David Cook (Flickr)|
shoebill (en); bico-de-tamanco (pt); bec-en-sabot du Nil (fr); picozapato (es); schuhschnabel (de)
This African species is found from southern Sudan and Ethipia, through Kenya and Uganda and into Tanzania, southern D.R. Congo and Zambia. There is also a separate population in the Central African Republic.
These birds are 1,1-1,4 m long and have a wingspan of 2,3-2,6 m. They weigh 4-7 kg.
Shoebills breed in flooded marshes where vegetation is dominated by a mixture of papyrus Cyperus papyrus, reeds Phragmites, cattails Typha and grasses, particularly Miscanthidium. Outside the breeding season they forage in shallow water where the vegetation is not very dense nor taller than the birds, preferring poorly oxygenated waters, where fish are forced to surface to breathe, and are thus more easily caught.
They mostly feed on lungfish Protopterus, bichirs Polypterus, catfish Clarias, tilapia Tilapia and water snakes. On occasion, they will also consume frogs, monitor lizards, turtles, rats, young birds, young crocodiles, molluscs and carrion.
The breeding season of the shoebill varies with location, but usually coincides with the onset of the dry season. They are monogamous and the nest is a grassy construction, up to 3 m wide, on a mound of floating vegetation or a small island, and often among dense stands of Papyrus. There the female lays 1-3 flaky whitish eggs, which are incubated for around 30 days. The chicks fledge 95-110 days after hatching, but only become fully independent 1 month later.
IUCN status - VU (Vulnerable)
This species has a very large breeding range, but the global population is estimated at just 5.000-8.000 individuals. The population is declining in Tanzania, Zambia and Rwanda, and possibly also in Uganda, mostly due to habitat destruction and degradation, disturbance, hunting, and capture for the bird trade. Drainage of wetlands for cultivation and pasture, as well as changes in water levels caused by the construction of dams are affecting this species in various parts of its range.