The Marabou Stork, Leptoptilos crumeniferus, is a large wading bird in the stork family Ciconiidae. It breeds in Africa south of the Sahara, occurring in both wet and arid habitats, often near human habitation, especially waste tips. It is sometimes called the "undertaker bird," due to its shape from behind: cloak-like wings and back, skinny white legs, and sometimes, a large white mass of "hair."
A massive bird, large specimens are thought to reach a height of 150 cm (60 in), a weight of over 9 kg (20 lbs) and have a wingspan of at least 3.2 m (10.5 ft). In the last regard, it shares the distinction of having the largest wingspan of any landbird with the Andean Condor. More typically, these birds measure 110-140 cm (43-55 in), 225-287 cm (89-113 in) across the wings, and weigh 4.5-8 kg (10-18 lbs). Unlike most storks, the three Leptoptilos species fly with the neck retracted like a heron.
The Marabou is unmistakable due to its size, bare head and neck, black back, and white underparts. It has a huge bill, a pink gular sack at its throat, a neck ruff, and black legs and wings. The sexes are alike, but the young bird is browner and has a smaller bill. Full maturity is not reached for up to four years.
Like most storks, the Marabou is gregarious and a colonial breeder. In the African dry season (when food is more readily available as the pools shrink) it builds a tree nest in which two or three eggs are laid.
It also resembles other storks in that it is not very vocal, but indulges in bill-rattling courtship displays. The throat sack is also used to make various noises at that time.
The Marabou Stork is a frequent scavenger, and the naked head and neck are adaptations to this, as it is with the vultures with which the stork often feeds. In both cases, a feathered head would become rapidly clotted with blood and other substances when the bird's head was inside a large corpse, and the bare head is easier to keep clean.
This large and powerful bird eats mainly carrion, scraps and faeces, but will also take fish, frogs, insects, eggs, small mammals and reptiles such as crocodile hatchlings and eggs. It occasionly eats other birds including quelea nestlings, pigeons, doves, pelican and cormarant chicks and even flamingos.
Marabou down is frequently used in the trimming of various items of clothing and hats, as well as fishing lures. Marabou is also a term for "raw silk that can be dyed without being separated from the gum."
In popular culture
- BirdLife International (2008). Leptoptilos crumeniferus. 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2008. Retrieved on 3 February 2009. Database entry includes justification for why this species is of least concern.