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.
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 )
Sub-Saharan Africa: all S of Sahara except forest area, around Gabon, N Angola and W South Africa.
Sub-Saharan Africa: all S of Sahara except forest area, around Gabon, N Angola and W South Africa.
Sub-Saharan Africa: all S of Sahara except forest area around Gabon, N Angola and W South Africa.
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.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Average mass: 8000 g.
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
Habitat and Ecology
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)
Life History and Behavior
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Status: wild: 25.0 years.
Status: captivity: 41.0 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
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)
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous
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.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Leptoptilos crumeniferus
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
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
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
The Marabou stork does not appear to have any negative effects on humans or the environment.
The Marabou stork reduces the spread of disease by cleaning up animal carcasses. (National Zoo, 2000)
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".
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). 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). 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.
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.
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. Though known to eat putrid and seemingly inedible foods, these storks may sometimes wash food in water to remove soil. 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. 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.
Marabou down is frequently used in the trimming of various items of clothing and hats, as well as fishing lures. Turkey down and similar feathers have been used as a substitute for making 'marabou' trimming.
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