Marabou storks are most noticeable due to their long grey legs which appear white due to a build-up of excrement. They stand an average of 1.52m (5ft) tall. An average weight for this species is 9kg (20lbs). Their maximum wingspan is 3.19m (10.5ft) across. Their bill measures 26-35cm (10-13.8in). Male marabou storks are larger than females.
They have dark grey coloured wings. Their neck is featherless and coloured pink as is the face. A number of black spots pattern the forehead and the base of the bill. This bill is wedge shaped and may be coloured greenish yellow or horn. Below the bill is a pink wattle which appears fleshy and can be inflated. When inflated this may have a diameter of 25-35cm (10-14in). Their underside is off-white. The tail feathers are soft and white. On the nape is white hair.
This species is a carnivore. Most of their food comes from scavenging by flying high above the ground. They will feed upon most varieties of live and dead prey including lizards, frogs, insects, rats, mice, birds, fish, crocodile eggs, young crocodiles and snakes.
When hunting marabou storks have been known to follow vultures and wait for them to drop some meat as they are better at tearing through carrion.
They will also co-locate with large mammals. As these walk they throw up insects which the stork can then eat.
Due to the creation of more and more dumps across Africa this bird’s population has expanded due to the amount of carrion available there.
Africa is the native home of the marabou stork. They can be found throughout Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Northern Cameroon, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
Marabou storks make their home on open savannas near swamps, river margins and lake shores. More often they are locating themselves near fishing villages where they can steal scraps.
Breeding occurs during the dry season. At this time water levels have dropped and birds and fish are easier to find. Birds will congregate in groups ranging from 20 pairs to several thousand. Males first come and establish a territory. Then he greets new comers with an inflated throat pouch. Soon he will accept a courting female into his territory. The pair then start to build their nest. This is constructed from sticks on a cliff side, in a tree or on top of buildings in villages. Into this nest two to three eggs will be deposited with a two to three day interval between each.
After 29-31 days the chicks will hatch. When they hatch they are covered in a grey down. It takes 13-15 weeks for them to be ready to fledge. Typically only one of the three chicks will make it to this stage.
Four years after birth the chicks will achieve sexual maturity. Only one in four chicks which fledge will breed.
By inflating their air sac the marabou stork can display its dominance. It also helps in the thermoregulation of the bird.
Groups of marabou storks may number up to 1000 but an average number would be 40 to 120. These gather in the late afternoon at communal roosts. By morning they wait for the thermals to pick up before they take flight. The flock may undertake a small migration in the event their food sources run out.
By squirting excrement onto their legs the marabou stork is able to cool down. When they want to warm up they will spread out their wings.
During social displays they make a load croaking using their gular sack. By clapping the beak together rapidly they can show that they are feeling threatened.
In flight the marabou stork, unlike most other storks, flies with a retracted neck. This serves to put some of the weight of their large bill onto the shoulders.
In the past the feathers of the marabou stork were used to trim hats and gowns along with making scarves.
Due to their appearance from behind this bird is also known as the “undertaker bird.”
It is believed that their name comes from an Arabic word for quiet or hermit-like.
By William Warby (Flickr: Marabou Stork in Flight) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Lip Kee Yap [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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