What is a Shoebill stork? © Alamy

What is a Shoebill stork?

Published: 13th August, 2022 at 18:00
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At times vilified for its supposedly menacing demeanour, the shoebill stork deserves better.

Yes, it’s a solitary loner that picks off its prey one at a time. Yes, it has an enormous, shoe-shaped beak that can kill a baby croc or wrangle a lungfish. And yes, its stare is somewhat intense – think Paddington Bear meets Vinnie Jones.


It also doesn’t help that the bird is physically intimidating. This freshwater swamp specialist from eastern Africa stands over a metre tall, has a wingspan of up to 75cm, and its sharp, clog-shaped bill grows up to 24cm long.

It’s also slow, purposeful and utterly relentless. Shoebills are stealth predators. They can stand motionless for hours, before attacking, shaking, crushing and then swallowing their prey, and yet, this relative of the pelican is so much more than some villainous caricature.

For one thing, it poos on its own legs. Not so scary now, eh? Known as urohidrosis, it’s a messy but deliberate habit that helps the bird to stay cool.

A photograph of a flying shoebill stork
The shoebill stork has an average wingspan of over 2.5m © Getty images

The shoebill is similarly nonconformist in the air, where it has one of the slowest flapping rates of any bird. It takes just 150 beats per minute to keep this impressive animal aloft.

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Asked by: Adam Jarrett, Ipswich


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Helen Pilcher
Helen PilcherScience writer, presenter and performer.

Helen Pilcher is a tea-drinking, biscuit-nibbling science and comedy writer, with a PhD in cell biology.


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