Overview

Brief Summary

The Marabou Stork, Leptoptilos crumeniferus, is a large wading bird with an unsual appearance, commonly found in tropical areas of Africa. (2, 3). Marabous have a long tan beak, long legs, a white chest of feathers and wings covered with dark grey or black feathers. Adults can weigh up to 5-6 kg (12-14lbs) and can have a wingspan as large as 4 m (12 feet)(2).Marabou storks have a visible red throat air sac on its neck that it can inflate and deflate. Another sac can be found on the “hindneck” or behind the head and is hidden by feathers. (2).Marabou storks breed in colonies, each individual nest is made of sticks. Nests are built near a reliable food source and can be found built on high trees (10-30m), on rock faces or in towns and villages (1). Marabou storks are scavengers that feed in groups and eat a wide variety of food (carrion, fish, bugs, frogs, snakes, mice and rats). Their habitat ranges from savannas to riverbanks or lakeshores (1) however their eating habits have led them into urban areas where they can access garbage and waste from Abattoirs (slaughterhouses) and fishing villages where they can access fish and food waste from humans (1, 3, 4).

  • 1.Birdlife International. Marabou stork: Leptoptilos crumeniferus Factsheet. http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=3841. Accessed 16/04/2012.
  • 2.Kahl, M.P. The Marabou Stork, Leptoptilos crumeniferus. Comparative Ethology of the Ciconiidae. Part 1. Behaviour, Vol. 27, No. 1/2 (1966), pp. 76-106 http://www.jstor.org/stable/4533152. Accessed: 16/04/2012 .
  • 3.Pomeroy, D.E. Seasonality of Marabou Storks Leptoptilos Crumeniferus in Eastern Africa. Ibis, Volume 120, Issue 3, pages 313–321, July 1978.
  • 4.Pomeroy, D.E. Birds as scavengers of refuse in Uganda. Ibis,Volume 117, Issue 1, pages 69–81, January 1975.
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Distribution

Sub-Saharan Africa: all S of Sahara except forest area, around Gabon, N Angola and W South Africa.

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Sub-Saharan Africa: all S of Sahara except forest area, around Gabon, N Angola and W South Africa.

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Sub-Saharan Africa: all S of Sahara except forest area around Gabon, N Angola and W South Africa.

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Range

Tropical Africa south of the Sahara.

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Geographic Range

The Marabou stork is found throughout Africa. However, it usually resides somewhere between the Sahara Desert and South Africa. ( Dinsmore, 1997; Deignan, 1982)

Biogeographic Regions: ethiopian (Native )

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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Leptoptilos crumeniferus is a large, unusual looking bird. It stands on long, grey legs at about 1.5 meters tall. The bird's upper body and wings are black or dark grey, and its underparts are white. Its soft, white tail feathers are known as marabou. Its neck and head contain no feathers. The Marabou stork has a long, reddish pouch hanging from its neck. This pouch is used in courtship rituals. (Dinsmore, 1997)

Average mass: 9000 g.

Average mass: 8000 g.

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Ecology

Habitat

All open habitats and savannas

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All open habitats and savannas

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All open habitats and savannas

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Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Behaviour This species is sedentary or locally nomadic (Hancock et al. 1992, del Hoyo et al. 1992). Populations in the north and south generally move towards the equator after breeding and other populations making dispersive movements in relation to water availablity (del Hoyo et al. 1992) or prey abundance (Hancock et al. 1992). In the tropics the species begins to breed in the dry season, but in the equatorial zone the timing of breeding is more variable (del Hoyo et al. 1992). It breeds in colonies numbering from 20-60 up to several thousand pairs and often nests with other species (del Hoyo et al. 1992). When not breeding the species often remains gregarious, feeding in groups and gathering at night in communal roosts of up to 1,000 individuals (Hancock et al. 1992). It may also associate with herds of large mammals in order to catch insects disturbed by their movements (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Habitat It inhabits open dry savannas, grasslands, swamps, riverbanks, lake shores and receding pools (del Hoyo et al. 1992) where fish are concentrated (Hancock et al. 1992), typically foraging in and around fishing villages (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Diet Its diet consists predominantly of carrion and scraps of fish discarded by humans as well as live fish, termites, locusts, frogs, lizards, snakes, rats, mice and birds (del Hoyo et al. 1992) (e.g. adult flamingoes Phoenicopterus spp.) (Brown et al. 1982). Breeding site The nest is constructed of sticks (del Hoyo et al. 1992) and is positioned 10-30 m above the ground in trees, on cliffs (del Hoyo et al. 1992) or on buildings in towns and villages (Brown et al. 1982). The species breeds colonially in single- or mixed-species groups (del Hoyo et al. 1992), usually in close proximity (less than 50-60 km) to a reliable food source (Hancock et al. 1992).

Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Freshwater
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The habitat of the Marabou stork includes aquatic, arid areas of Africa. The bird is also frequently found near landfills or fishing villages. (Lincoln Park Zoo, 1999)

Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune ; savanna or grassland

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Dispersal

Movements and dispersal

Resident

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Movements and dispersal

Resident

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Movements and dispersal

Resident

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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

The Marabou stork is a scavenger. It primarily relies on the carcasses of dead animals as their source of food. However, they also eat live prey, such as fish, reptiles, and locusts. (Campbell, 1974; Dinsmore, 1997)

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Life History and Behavior

Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
25.0 years.

Average lifespan

Status: captivity:
41.0 years.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 44.7 years (captivity) Observations: In the wild, these birds may live up to 25 years (http://nationalzoo.si.edu/). In captivity, one specimen lived 44.7 years (Brouwer et al. 1992).
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Reproduction

Leptoptilos crumeniferus is known as a colonial breeder. It reaches sexual maturity when it is approximately four years old and usually mates for life. The stork lays its eggs in small nests made of sticks that hold two or three of its eggs. The Marabou breeds during the dry season because at this time the water levels are low, which make it easier to catch frogs and fish to feed the young. This stork may live up to 25 years. (Microsoft Encarta, 1999; Campbell, 1972)

Average time to hatching: 30 days.

Average eggs per season: 2.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)

Sex: male:
1460 days.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)

Sex: female:
1460 days.

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Leptoptilos crumeniferus

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2012

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S. & Symes, A.

Contributor/s

Justification
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be increasing, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
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Due to its ability to adjust to human activity, the population of Marabou storks may actually be increasing. (National Zoo, 2000)

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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Population

Population Trend
Increasing
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Threats

Major Threats
Utilisation This species is hunted and traded at traditional medicine markets in Nigeria (Nikolaus 2001).
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

The Marabou stork does not appear to have any negative effects on humans or the environment.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The Marabou stork reduces the spread of disease by cleaning up animal carcasses. (National Zoo, 2000)

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Wikipedia

Marabou stork

The marabou stork (Leptoptilos crumeniferus) is a large wading bird in the stork family Ciconiidae. It breeds in Africa south of the Sahara, 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".

Description[edit]

Large marabou stork, British East Africa
The skeleton of a marabou stork
This skull cast from a Leptoptilos crumeniferus displays its long beak.

The marabou stork is a massive bird: large specimens are thought to reach a height of 152 cm (60 in) and a weight of 9 kg (20 lb).[2][3] A wingspan of 3.7 m (12 ft) was accepted by Fisher and Peterson, who ranked the species as having the largest wing-spread of any living bird. Even higher measurements of up to 4.06 m (13.3 ft) have been reported, although no measurement over 3.19 m (10.5 ft) has been verified. It is often credited with the largest spread of any landbird, to rival the Andean condor; more typically, however, these storks measure 225–287 cm (7–9 ft) across the wings, which is about a foot less than the average Andean condor wingspan and nearly two feet less than the average of the largest albatrosses and pelicans. Typical weight is 4.5–8 kg (9.9–17.6 lb), unusually as low as 4 kg (8.8 lb), and length (from bill to tail) is 120 to 130 cm (47 to 51 in). Females are smaller than males. Bill length can range from 26.4 to 35 cm (10.4 to 13.8 in).[4][5][6] 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 sac 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.

Behavior[edit]

A marabou stork and vultures scavenging in the Masai Mara, Kenya

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 sac is also used to make various noises at that time.

A number of endoparasites have been identified in wild marabous including Cheilospirura, Echinura and Acuaria nematodes, Amoebotaenia sphenoides (Cestoda) and Dicrocoelium hospes (Trematoda).[7]

Feeding behavior[edit]

Marabou stork in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
A marabou stork in Al Ain Zoo in the United Arab Emirates

The marabou stork is a frequent scavenger, and the naked head and neck are adaptations to this livelihood, 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 opportunistically eat almost any animal matter it can swallow. It occasionally eats other birds including quelea nestlings, pigeons, doves, pelican and cormorant chicks, and even flamingos. During the breeding season, adults scale back on carrion and take mostly small, live prey since nestlings need this kind of food to survive. Common prey at this time may consist of fish, frogs, insects, eggs, small mammals and reptiles such as crocodile hatchlings and eggs.[4] Though known to eat putrid and seemingly inedible foods, these storks may sometimes wash food in water to remove soil.[8] When feeding on carrion, marabou frequently follow vultures, which are better equipped with hooked bills for tearing through carrion meat and may wait for the vultures to cast aside a piece, steal a piece of meat directly from the vulture or wait until the vultures are done.[4] As with vultures, marabou storks perform an important natural function by cleaning areas via their ingestion of carrion and waste. Increasingly, marabous have become dependent on human garbage and hundreds of the huge birds can be found around African dumps or waiting for a hand out in urban areas. Marabous eating human garbage have been seen to devour virtually anything that they can swallow, including shoes and pieces of metal. Marabous conditioned to eating from human sources have been known to lash out when refused food.[4]

Human uses[edit]

A 1920 cloak trimmed with marabou feathers

Marabou down is frequently used in the trimming of various items of clothing and hats, as well as fishing lures.[9]

In culture[edit]

The name Marabou is thought to be derived from the Arabic word murābit meaning quiet or hermit-like.[10]

References[edit]

  1. ^ BirdLife International (2009). "Leptoptilos crumeniferus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.1. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 5 August 2011. 
  2. ^ Likoff, Laurie E. (1986). The Encyclopedia of Birds. Infobase Publishing. pp. 616–. ISBN 978-0-8160-5904-1. Retrieved 21 August 2012. 
  3. ^ Stevenson, Terry and Fanshawe, John (2001). Field Guide to the Birds of East Africa: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi. Elsevier Science, ISBN 978-0856610790
  4. ^ a b c d Hancock, Kushlan & Kahl, Storks, Storks, Ibises and Spoonbills of the World. Princeton University Press (1992), ISBN 978-0-12-322730-0
  5. ^ Carwardine, Animal Records (Natural History Museum). Sterling (2008), ISBN 978-1-4027-5623-8
  6. ^ Wood, Gerald (1983). The Guinness Book of Animal Facts and Feats. ISBN 978-0-85112-235-9. 
  7. ^ Bwangamoi, O.; Dranzoa, C.; Ocaido, M.; Kamatei, G. S; (2003). "Gastro-intestinal helminths of marabou stork (Leptoptilos crumeniferus)". African Journal of Ecology 41 (1): 111–113. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2028.2003.00418.x. 
  8. ^ Seibt, U. and Wickler, W. (1978). "Marabou Storks Wash Dung Beetles". Zeitschrift für Tierpsychologie 46 (3): 324–327. doi:10.1111/j.1439-0310.1978.tb01453.x. 
  9. ^ The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English 2008 (Oxford University Press, 2008)
  10. ^ Yule, Henry (1903). Hobson-Jobson. A glossary of colloquial Anglo-Indian words and phrases, and of kindred terms, etymological, historical, geographical and discursive (2 ed.). London: John Murray. p. 7. 
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