The Shoebill is a large African bird that lives in wetlands far from human settlements.
Its characteristic large, massive beak, which resembles a wooden shoe, makes its appearance quite menacing. Sometimes people are afraid of it, although in reality it is a gentle bird that may greet a person by bowing its head, or respond to a person's bowing of the head.
In addition to their distinctive appearance, these birds are known for another rare trait - the young of this species kill their weaker siblings to get rid of food competition. This phenomenon is called siblicide.
The visceral plover (Balaeniceps rex) is a species of bird in the visceral plover family (Balaenicipitidae).
They live mainly in the eastern and tropical zones of Africa. They are found from southern Sudan and southwestern Ethiopia through Uganda to southeastern Congo and northern Zambia, and are most abundant in Sudan and Zambia.
Outside the breeding season, these birds can also be found in the Central African Republic.
Sometimes the disturbance of their natural habitat by humans is the reason for their migrations.
These birds prefer areas with diverse vegetation, especially areas with papyrus, reeds and water club. Shoebills sometimes feed in Sudan's rice fields and other flooded crop plantations. They like the environment of oxygen-poor waters because it is easier for them to hunt fish that swim just below the surface.
They hunt only one type of animal, lungfish, which are between 15 and 50 cm long and weigh about 500 grams. Sometimes, when the opportunity arises, they also hunt frogs, young crocodiles, turtles, small mammals and mollusks. They also do not disdain carrion.
They know the lake or other body of water where they are, so they know where the fish are at any given time of day.
Shoebills will patiently wade through the water or stand still and wait for a fish to swim up to them on its own. When the fish approaches, the bird dives in and spreads its wings. The suddenly spread wings stun the fish for a moment, and the Shoebill catches it, crushes it with its powerful beak, and swallows the catch.
A larger number of hunters can only be seen when a body of water dries up and all that is left is a small morass full of trapped fish.
The most distinctive part of its body is a thick, wide beak adapted for foraging in mud. This beak resembles a wooden shoe. It has an elongated, broad shape and a hooked end that makes it easier to catch slippery food. The color of the bill is yellowish with small darker spots.
Its trunk is massive, and its legs are long and slender. The neck is slender and although it appears long, it is actually shorter than that of other wading birds (heron, crane).
The eyes are yellowish or grayish-white in color.
The back and neck are covered with blue-gray feathers with a greenish tinge, while the underside of the body is usually lighter. The head is generally darker than the rest of the body, with a tuft of jagged feathers on the back.
Males are larger and have longer, more massive bills.
The length of its body (from the tail to the beak) is from 100 to 140 cm (39 to 55 in). The height of the bird at the withers - from 110 to 140 cm (43 to 55 in), although there are specimens that reach up to 150 cm (59 in).
Wingspan: from 230 to 260 cm (90 to 102 in), and weight: from 4 to 7 kg (8.8 to 15.4 lb), with the male averaging 5.5 kg (12 lb) and the female 4.9 kg (9.8 lb).
During the breeding season, they form monogamous pairs, build the nest together, incubate the eggs, and care for the young.
The female lays 1 to 2 eggs and the incubation time lasts about 30 days. After hatching, the parents feed juveniles up to 6 times a day. At first, the young are fed partially digested food, and over time they begin to eat whole fish.
The chicks do not become fully feathered for another 60 days, and are able to fly about 112 days after hatching.
The full breeding period lasts 140-145 days, and only then do the young leave the nest. They may occasionally return to the nest to rest during the first few days after leaving.
When the parents of hatched Shoebill chicks leave the nest in search of food, the stronger individual begins to attack his brother, pecking at his feathers and even injuring him. Upon returning to the nest, the parents keep the stronger individual in the nest, and the weaker one is removed and left to fend for itself - most often not surviving.
Such behavior also occurs in some species of birds of prey, including the lesser spotted eagle, greater spotted eagle, white-tailed eagle, and kestrel.
This behavior also occurs in some species of fish, such as the sand tiger shark - this is known as prenatal cannibalism.
When hunting, the primary senses used by these birds are sight and hearing. To increase their field of vision, Shoebills hold their heads almost vertically, parallel to their breasts - sometimes giving the impression of a standing man.
Shoebills were originally classified as storks (Ciconiiformes). However, based on anatomical similarities, shoebills were found to be closer to pelicans (Pelecanidae) - DNA studies have clearly confirmed that they belong to the order of pelicans (Pelecaniformes).
The global population of Shoebills was estimated at 5000-8000 individuals in 2002. Their population is threatened by human activities (over irrigation, grass burning, cattle grazing, fishing, draining of swamps, etc.). In addition, these birds are hunted for food. Eggs and chicks are used for human consumption or sold to zoos and collectors.
The price of an individual can range from $10,000 to $20,000. Unfortunately, these birds do not reproduce in captivity.
Among some African tribes, hunting shoebills is forbidden and the bird is the subject of superstition. Some say that the mere mention of the bird's name on a boat trip can bring on a storm.