10 Incredible Shoebill Stork Facts

Written by Brandi Allred
Published: August 9, 2022
Image Credit iStock.com/yoko_ken_chan
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They might not be as famous as condors or bald eagles, but shoebill storks are still one of the most impressive, fearsome birds on the planet. Some of the most incredible shoebill stork facts have to do with their unique method of hunting and how their beaks have evolved to kill and transport.

Here, we’ll learn more about these incredible, prehistoric-looking predatory birds. We’ll find out how big they get, how they raise their chicks, and where they get their name from.

Read on to learn some incredible shoebill stork facts!

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1. Shoebill Storks Are in Danger of Going Extinct

Shoebill
The shoebill stork is vulnerable to extinction due to habitat loss.

Also known as the whale-headed stork, shoebills are currently listed as Vulnerable to extinction. Despite their name, shoebill storks are no longer considered storks; they’re actually in their own family of birds. This is because they have characteristics of storks, herons, and even pelicans. Their main threats are habitat loss and habitat fragmentation, as well as poaching and pollution. There are an estimated 3,500-5,000 shoebill storks living in the wild today.

2. Shoebill Storks have Long Life

One of the most incredible shoebill stork facts is that these birds live a long time. Wild shoebills are thought to live in excess of 25 years, while zoo-bred specimens have lived to be 35. Because they have such a long lifespan, shoebill storks take a long time to grow up. Mating occurs either at the beginning of the dry season or at the onset of the wet season. Once the chicks are born, they take three years to reach sexual maturity. 

3. Shoebill Storks Usually have Two Chicks at a Time

The Shoebill Stork, also known as Whalehead or Shoe-billed Stork, is a very large stork-like bird.
Both parents share the responsibility of nurturing their chicks.

Nazzu/Shutterstock.com

Shoebill storks build some of the strangest nests in the animal kingdom. Rather than building them on solid ground, they build them on floating vegetation over relatively deep water. The floating nature of the nest, coupled with its location in thick vegetation, makes it extremely difficult for predators to reach. A monogamous mated pair builds their nest together and fiercely defends the territory around it from other shoebills. Then, females lay 1-3 eggs, with two being the most common. Both parents protect the eggs and, when they hatch, feed the young.

4. Shoebill Storks are Tall

Another incredible shoebill stork fact is that they are not small birds. Despite their size, they’re not flightless. In fact, shoebills have an eight-foot wingspan. They stand between 3.5-5 feet tall and may weigh as much as 12 pounds. They have long, straight legs, long toes, and lengthy, powerful wings. Their predominant color is slate gray, with tones of light gray, blue gray, and dark gray marking the wings apart from the belly. Their bills are light orange and just might be their most distinctive feature.

5. Shoebill Storks Use Their Beaks Like Water Bottles

The Shoebill stork, Balaeniceps rex, also known as Whalehead or Shoe-billed Stork, is a very large Stork-like bird.
Shoebill storks don’t just use their beaks to transport food to their hungry youngsters; they also use them to transport water. 

Petr Simon/Shutterstock.com

Their beaks might look comically large, but at up to a foot long and five inches wide, shoebill bills are nothing to be trifled with. They’re lethal killing instruments, but they’re also vital for keeping nests, eggs, and young chicks cool. Shoebills achieve this by using their large bills to carry water to the nest. Once there, they saturate the nest—eggs, chicks, and all—to cool it down. But that’s not the only thing they use their large beaks for. Shoebill storks also clack their beaks closed to make a loud warning sound or to appeal to potential mates.

6. Shoebill Storks get Their Name from Footwear

Another incredible shoebill stork fact has to do with the origins of their unique name. Shoebills are named for the similarity of their beaks to Dutch wooden shoes, like clogs. If you ever get the chance to see a shoebill in the flesh, you’ll see firsthand that the shoe does indeed fit.

7. Shoebill Storks Are Native to Africa

Cool Types of Birds
Native to Africa, shoebill storks are drawn to vegetated shores.

iStock.com/Michel VIARD

Shoebill storks are native to select regions of East and Central Africa. There are populations of shoebills in Uganda, Sudan, South Sudan, Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, and more. They’re particularly drawn to heavily vegetated lakeshores and papyrus swamps. They prefer tall grasses and shallow waters, where fish are plentiful, and they have plenty of room to avoid other shoebills.

8. Shoebills are Vicious Hunters

One of the most incredible shoebill stork facts is that shoebills are vicious and effective hunters. Their beaks are designed to both shear and stab. They hunt during the day, standing motionless in shallow, heavily vegetated areas. When they sight prey, they drop their body weight in one swift motion, stabbing the prey with the full weight of their body. Shoebill storks eat everything from turtles, lizards, frogs, and snakes to fish like tilapia, lungfish, and catfish. Their mode of hunting is alternately known as ‘wade and walk slowly’ or ‘stand and wait’. No matter what you call it, you don’t want to be a fish in the sights of a shoebill.

9. Shoebill Storks Like Their Space

A pair of Shoebill Stork standing in a wetland in Uganda.
Shoebills storks spend most of their time alone.

Ward Poppe/Shutterstock.com

Shoebill storks come together to raise young, but that’s about it. They’re known as solitary hunters who seem to have no desire to interact with other members of their species. Indeed, if two shoebills live together in the same zoo exhibit, they will eat their meals at separate ends of the enclosure.

10. Shoebills ‘Chatter’ with Their Beaks

One final incredible shoebill stork fact is that shoebills make a lot of noise with their beaks—when they want to. They alternately clack their beaks in self-defense to attract mates and to talk to their chicks.

close up of a shoebill stork
The creepy shoebill stork seemingly poses no threat to humans.
iStock.com/yoko_ken_chan
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About the Author

Brandi is a professional writer by day and a fiction writer by night. Her nonfiction work focuses on animals, nature, and conservation. She holds degrees in English and Anthropology, and spends her free time writing horror, scifi, and fantasy stories.

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