Marabou Stork (Leptoptilos crumeniferus)
Status: No special status.
Characteristics: Social, gregarious, monogamous.
Offspring: Two to five eggs.
· The soft, white tail feathers are known as marabou and were once used in ladies’ fashions.
· The marabou is the largest of the storks and one of the largest flying birds in the world.
· Marabous have hollow leg and toe bones.
· They have keen eyesight and can spot prey or carcasses long distances away.
Unlike the typical vision of storks as beautiful white birds, the marabou stork is strangely unattractive, more resembling a vulture than a stork. And although it isn’t related to the vulture, the marabou often acts as a scavenger, soaring above the ground looking for carcasses to feed on and often finds itself in the company of vultures. The marabou has the long legs typical of storks, with dark gray or black wings and a grizzled red naked neck with a pouch hanging from its throat, and a mottled red and black featherless head. Females are similar to males in appearance, but slightly smaller. Marabous are outgoing and gather in large groups to feed, bathe or rest. In areas where there are large human populations, marabous make frequent visits to the local garbage dump. They can become quite tame, waiting at slaughterhouses for the workers to throw them scraps. Marabous also eat live prey, including termites, flamingos, fish and small mammals. They can be seen perching high in trees or on cliffs, where they build their nests.
The marabou stork is found throughout Africa, south of the Sahara Desert, although they’ve become rare in the country of South Africa due to habitat destruction. They prefer arid conditions and will temporarily move during the rainy season. The unsightly appearance of the marabou stork, combined with its unsanitary habits (its legs are usually covered with excrement, and its neck, head and bill are covered with blood from poking around in carcasses) makes it an unattractive target for hunters. This bird isn’t unappreciated by all, however. Some residents in towns where it dwells appreciate the marabou’s willingness to eat carcasses and garbage, thereby removing it from their area and reducing the number of rodents and risk of disease.
Marabous reach sexual maturity at about four years of age. The male establishes a nesting territory, and treats all intruders with hostility by inflating his throat pouch, rattling his bill and making grunts and snorts. A female who is interested is submissive towards the male. Once a pair is established, the bond is for life. The male brings sticks of various sizes and leaves to the female, who builds the nest. The storks return to the same nest year after year. Nests are built in large colonies of several stork species, pelicans, herons and cormorants. When the eggs are laid, both parents take turns keeping them warm for the next month, until they hatch. The chicks are helpless at birth, and the parents take turns feeding them. While they’re tiny, one parent is always with the down-covered white chicks, keeping them warm and making sure they’re safe. They grow quickly, and may begin learning to fly at two months, closely watched by their parents, who teach them to hunt. They don’t become independent until they’re between four and five months of age. Marabou storks may live more than 25 years.