Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Shoebill - Missing Link?

The shoebill is a large, prehistoric-looking bird native to the swamps of tropical east Africa. Though originally thought to be more closely related to storks, scientists have now placed the shoebill in the same order as pelicans and consider it one of the “missing links” that connects pelicans and storks. 

Shoebills are easily recognized by their massive, foot-long beaks with a sharp barb on the end. The bird’s name is derived from this beak resembling a shoe.
The shoebill is a very large bird. Adults can stand five feet tall, weigh over 15lbs and have wingspans of ten feet. Although they do have strong wings, shoebills require a lot of open space to take off, something their swampy habitat does not provide. Because of this they can be reluctant fliers, even occasionally nesting on the ground.

Shoebills feed on a variety of fish, baby crocodiles and small mammals. They hunt by waiting motionless then ambushing their prey from the water with their powerful beaks.

The current estimated population of shoebills is between five and eight thousand individuals, with the bulk living in Sudan. Habitat loss and hunting have led to the shoebill being classified as vulnerable.

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