The African Marabou Stork (Leptoptilos crumeniferus) – often just called the Marabou – is large with distinct features and is found in sub-Saharan Africa.
Its feathers are grey and white. Its soft, white tail feathers are known as marabou. It has a pink bald head and neck like a vulture with red spots and a long reddish-coloured pouch hanging from its neck, called a wattle. It has a conical bill. It has long black legs.
It grows to 1.5 metres (5 feet) tall with a wingspan of 2.6 metres (8.5 feet). In flight, it soars, but when it is on the ground it walks in a hunched manner. It is often called The Undertaker bird.
The African Marabou Stork has hollow leg bones and hollow toe bones. The hollow bones help it to fly by making it lighter. They are not good short-distance flyers. Like other storks, the Marabou fly with their long legs trailing behind them, but they keep their neck tucked well into their shoulders, shaped like the letter S. This allows the weight of the heavy beak to be distributed on the shoulders.
It is found near water where it is a scavenger feeding on dead animal carcasses, just like a vulture or a hyena. It also eats live animals, such as frogs, lizards, insects, snakes, rats, mice, termites, and birds.
They live in colonies of about 1,000 individuals.
African Marabou Storks build large nests of sticks at the top of trees. At about four years of age, they choose a partner for life. Females lay 2-3 eggs each season, which take about 30 days to hatch.
Young chicks are altricial – bald, blind, and helpless. Both parents feed their chicks. The chicks are fully feathered at 13-15 weeks, but they do not have their black feathers until they are three years old. They are mature when they are four years old.
They are usually silent, but they will clack their beaks together if they feel threatened.
Like the Turkey Vulture, the Marabou Stork poops down its legs and feet. It helps it to keep cool by regulating its body temperature. It also pants when it becomes hot in order to lower its body temperature.
Although it looks and behaves like a vulture, it is not related to the vulture.
Photographer: Martina Nicolls
Martina Nicolls: SIMILAR BUT DIFFERENT IN THE ANIMAL KINGDOM