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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

BirdNote: The Stealthy Shoebill

Air Date: Week of

The African Shoebill. (Photo: Paul W. Sharpe)

Deep in the swamps of central Africa lives one of the strangest looking of birds; the Shoebill Stork. The name comes from its huge broad sharp beak, and only about 8000 of these large grey-blue birds survive. As Mary McCann explains, it’s actually related to the pelican, rather than storks.



CURWOOD: Birds come in all shapes and sizes, with feathers drab or colorful, and voices melodious or grating. And periodically, as Mary McCann points out in today's BirdNote®, there are birds that are, well, downright weird.


MCCANN: Deep in the dense, remote swamps of Central Africa lives one of the most peculiar looking of all birds. Picture a massive, blue-gray stork, standing up to five feet tall on long, gray legs. But instead of the stork’s long, tapered bill, substitute a prodigious, stout bill that’s hooked at the tip — and that gives this bird its name.

[Shoebill bill clapping and vocal sounds, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/2285, 0.48-54]

Meet the Shoebill, a bird unknown to science until the 19th Century, and the only living member of its family. So named because that comically large bill is, yellow-orange, and shaped like an oversized Dutch wooden shoe. But although the Shoebill looks like it walked right out of a cartoon, its beak is no joke. The edges are sharp enough to behead its prey, which include catfish with hard bony heads as well as lungfish, snakes, and even baby crocodiles. Which Shoebills hunt in the shallows, often standing completely motionless before they strike.

The Shoebill’s physical resemblance to the stork gave it its early name, the Whale-headed Stork. But DNA analysis showed that it’s more closely related to pelicans — another group of birds whose oversized beaks are truly awe-inspiring. Shoebills are notably less numerous than pelicans, though, with only 8,000 surviving in the wild.

Shoebills resemble storks, but are more closely related to pelicans. (Photo: David Cook)

I’m Mary McCann.

Written by Bob Sundstrom
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. [2285] recorded by Marian P. McChesney.
XC320901 ambient sounds recorded by James Bradley, Kenyan Swamp setting.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Sallie Bodie
© 2016 Tune In to Nature.org November 2016 Narrator: Mary McCann

CURWOOD: Swoop on over to our website, LOE.org for some pictures



This story on the BirdNote website

About the Shoebill from the National Audubon Society

Happy shoebill saved from poachers


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