Appearance and Physical Characteristics
The marabou stork is a unique species of bird. Known for its large stature, its long, hollow legs, large beak, a droopy, pink wattle that hangs below the beak (used for show, not for food storage); Arkive.org says many would consider the marabou stork an “ugly” animal. In spite of not having any feathers on their spotted head or legs, their bodies are covered in dark grey feathers. The Rainforest Trust, says “in African folklore this sickly looking stork was created by God out of leftover bird bits when he ran out of animal parts, leading to its ungainly appearance.” Although unique looking, they have many fascinating qualities.
Habitat and Feeding Behaviors
Native to the sub-Saharan region in Africa, the marabou stork is very similar to a vulture. Often found scavenging near lion feeding grounds and waste sites, this bird feeds on almost anything it can find. Kruger National Park explains a unique feeding behavior of the marabou stork: they are often attracted to grass fires and will advance towards the fire and catch any animals that are attempting to flee.
Social and Breeding Behavior
Marabou storks are very social creatures and can often form flocks of up to a thousand individuals. Sexual reproduction is reached at approximately four years of age. Mating pairs are often monogamous and build large nests on treetops. Two to three eggs are laid during the breeding season and both the male and female incubate the eggs and feed the young. The chicks fledge (start to leave the nest) around four months.
Because the marabou stork is a large predatory bird, they fortunately don’t have many threats! The populations are actually increasing due to the ability to thrive near urbanization. Although sometimes traded at Nigerian markets, as of right now, the marabou stork is listed as least concern.
**The photo on this post is Fred, a marabou stork I was fortunate enough to interact with at my zookeeping internship! To read more about my internship and the other amazing animals I worked with, please check out my series of posts titled “A Zoo’pendous Summer” linked below!**