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15 Ugly Facts About Africa’s Marabou Stork (Leptoptilos crumeniferus)

In this post, you'll meet Africa's Marabou Stork. This has been referred to as Unofficial National Bird of Uganda.

Marabou stork

Learn more about the other birds of Uganda.

15 Facts About the Ugly Marabou Stork

You are not likely to forget seeing a marabou stork, no matter if you see the majestic wading birds in the wilds of their native Africa or in a zoo.

Considered to be one of the ugliest animals on the planet, beneath its homely exterior the marabou stork is also one of the most fascinating birds that can be found on earth. Below, I'll share 14 interesting facts about this remarkable bird that you may not know.


1. Call the undertaker

The marabou stork has been dubbed “the undertaker bird” because of its appearance. When seen from behind, the marabou stork's back and wings appear cloak-like.

Its legs are skinny and white and sometimes there is a white tuft of what appears to be hair on its head.

2. 12 foot wingspan

Standing an average of 60 inches tall and weighing in at approximately 20 pounds, the marabou's wingspan of 11 feet is among the largest of any bird that is alive today (after the wandering albatross and great white pelican).

The female marabou stork is smaller than her male counterpart. Other than that, the male and female marabou stork look exactly alike and each have a large bill, a pink gular sac near the throat and a neck ruff.

The marabou stork does not reach full maturity until it is about four years of age. Younger marabou are browner and have smaller bills than mature marabou.

Marabou stork and bee

Learn about the saddle-billed stork – the tallest stork in the world.

3. Home sweet home

Native to tropical Africa, the marabou stork can be found in the wilds of Senegal, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Namibia, South Africa, and Uganda. It can most often be spotted near wetlands or in semi-arid savannas and grasslands.

The marabou is a relatively social bird that interacts with humans and can be found near fishing villages and garbage dumps.

4. Silence is sometimes golden

Even though the marabou stork doesn't have a voice box, it can make some sound by using its throat pouch or by clattering its bills together.

When it is making a social display, the marabou can produce a loud croaking sound by using its throat pouch. It will clap its bills together as a way to show it is feeling threatened.

There have also been reports of the marabou producing moos, whines, whistles and hiccups when courting and when it is feeling threatened.

5. Who doesn't enjoy a good fire?

Marabou storks are drawn to grass fires like a moth is to flame. They simply fly ahead of the flames and swoop down on smaller animals that are fleeing the blaze.

6. What a way to regulate body temperature

In order to cool down, the marabou stork squirts excrement on its legs, giving them their white appearance. But that is not the only way the marabou keeps cool in the African heat. Similar to many other birds, the marabou stork also pants as a way to lower its body temperature when it gets too hot.

In order to get warm, the marabou stork simply spreads out its wings to take in the warming rays of the sun.

7. Don't mind me. I'm just standing around…

The marabou stork can also be called one of the laziest birds there is because it normally does not expend any energy unnecessarily. The marabou stork spends most of its time simply standing around. Like many of its stork brothers and sisters, the marabou hunches over with its tarsi flat on the ground.

Marabou stork facts

8. Taking flight

The marabou is not an especially proficient short-distance flier. Like other storks, it flies with its legs flowing out from behind its body, but that is where the similarity ends.

Unlike their cousins, when in flight the marabou tucks its neck in to form a flattened S. This permits the weight of its beak to be borne on its shoulders.

9. Time to breed

Marabou storks breed during the dry season, when water levels are lower, meaning that birds and fish are easier to both find and catch.

During the breeding season, marabous gather in groups ranging anywhere from 20 pairs to upwards of several thousand. The male marabou stakes out his territory and inflates his throat pouch when newcomers arrive. He will then pair up with a courting female who enters his territory and nest building begins.

The pair usually mates for life and will construct their nest out of sticks on the side of a cliff, in a tree or even on top of a building. Two to three eggs will be laid in the nest with a two to three day interval between each laying.

Bot the male and female marabou help to incubate the eggs. It takes about a month for the eggs to hatch. When born, the marabou is covered in a down that is gray colored. Both sexes will also tend to and feed their young. Only one of three chicks will make it to the fledge stage 13 to 15 weeks after birth.

10. What's for breakfast, lunch and dinner?

A carnivore, the marabou is a meat lover who feasts on the carcasses and scraps of dead animals. It often gathers around carcasses with vultures and hyenas and other warm-blooded animals.

The marabou will stand off to the side and run in to grab a bite in between the vultures. It will also snatch up and devour the scraps which the other animals have dropped and left behind.

While eating the meat from a dead carcass may sound repulsive, the marabou stork is actually performing a vital job when it does this.

Even though the marabou stork is equipped with a large bill, it is not designed for cutting up meat. Instead, the marabou uses it to pull meat off a carcass while sticking its head deep inside the body of the dead animal.

And, when the marabou eats, it eats. It can swallow up to 2.2 pounds of meat with a single bite.

The marabou also eats bugs like termites and locusts. In addition, it will dine on human waste; flamingos; frogs, rats; mice; snakes; small birds; and even dead elephants.

When breeding, both male and female marabous take a break from their roadkill diet and instead eat more fish, frogs and other small prey that is alive since their nestlings require this type of food to survive.

11. A long life

The average lifespan for a marabou stork in the wild is 25 years. In captivity, the marabou can survive for up to 41 years.

12. What's in a name?

The Latin name for marabou stork is Leptoptilos crumeniferus. In Arabic, marabou is translated as “quiet” or “hermit like.”

13. Designing with the marabou

In the past, feathers from the marabou stork have been used to accent hats, gowns and coats in addition to be used to make scarves.

Marabou stork Uganda

14. Marabou stork and bee

Perhaps the most interesting fact about the marabou stork is its relationship with the bee. The bee and marabou stork relationship is known as commensalism.

What is commensalism? In nature, commensalism is the result of one organism benefiting and another organism neither being benefited or harmed as the result of a relationship.

The marabou stork and bee relationship: The relationship between the marabou stork and bee is a relatively simple one that exists in the wild. A carnivore, the marabou stork thrives on meat. It uses its strong bill to pull apart the carcasses of dead animals, which it then eats. Bees use what is left behind of the carcass as food and as shelter to lay their eggs.

15. Other facts

The marabou stork is a huge bird that can not be mistaken for anything else when spotted.

A highly social creature, marabou storks are often seen in groups and gather close together to roost at night.

Because they are so tall, both their toes and leg bones are hollow. This allows them to balance the weight of their body when they are standing and permits them to fly when they take to the sky.

Marabou storks are also classified as a species of least concern by various conservation groups from around the world.


Your Turn

While not one of the prettiest birds that you will ever see, the marabou stork is an important member of the wildlife community in its native Africa and performs a vital function in the circle of life.

About the author: Bryan Haines is co-editor of Uganda365 – and is working to make it the best source of information about Uganda travel. He is a travel blogger and content marketer. He is also co-founder of ClickLikeThis (GoPro tutorial blog) and Storyteller Media (content marketing for travel brands). Work with Bryan and Dena.

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3 comments… add one
  • Samuel K. I Sep 25, 2018 @ 6:57

    Your article is very informative. From your research on marabou stork, how do you drive them out from an area? Currently having a great problem with the birds in our neihbourhood

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