The shoebill is endemic to the wetlands of Africa, a unique tourist attraction that pulls tourist from across the globe to the Pearl of Africa, in search of the pre historic looking bird species whose uniqueness is astonishingly daunting.
The bird is unmistakably named after its foot long shoe shaped bill. The bill is five inches wide with a hook at the tip to enable it firmly prevent prey from escaping its life-crushing bill.
The distinctive grey swamp dweller with a huge shoe shaped bill is a remarkable sight for bird lovers on a safari in Uganda. The shoebill can grow as tall as five foot high; weigh as much as 3.5 kgs with an eight-foot wingspan. However, males are occasionally larger than females. The shoebill has got round yellow dull eyes, grey feathers, and a small-feathered crest on the back of their heads. The ambush predators have thin long legs with wide feet suitable for walking in water and on vegetation.
The largely territorial shoebill is unique for its hunting skill. The extremely patient shoebill can stay motionless four hours waiting for an unsuspecting lungfish to surface, and then it lashes at it with its shoe shaped bill. The hooked tip prevents its prey from escaping.
Its other lethal hunting technique is to collapse on its prey such that its lungs are filled with water until is suffocates to death.
As already stated, the bird feeds on lungfish, snakes, grasshopper, tilapia, eels, baby crocodiles among others. Many of which are found in swampy vegetation.
The shoebill is common in swampy areas which provide a vast diet of snakes, lung fish, frogs among others. The Mabamba wetland, west of Entebbe International Airport is one of the most popular places to catch sight of this prehistoric- looking bird. Other places to find it include the lower parts of Muchison falls National park, near lake Albert among others.
Although the birds live a solitary life, breeding season tends to ignite their social behavior, which leads both male and female to team up. They reach sexual maturity at three to four years old, where they seek out each other’s company for mating and rising chicks. Breeding pairs are monogamous.
The usually silent bird clatters its bill during nesting and mating season, to attract the opposite sex. The female make their nest on water or floating vegetation and lays two eggs, which are hatched by both parents in day and night shifts for one month. Both parents take turns in raising the chicks. Sadly, only one chick survives to fledge because they attack each other in competition for food.
Unlike many birds, a shoebill may live up to 35 years in the wild and 50 years in captivity.