Marabou Stork (Leptoptilos crumeniferus)


Class: Aves
Order: Ciconiiformes
Family:    Ciconiidae
Size:    Length: 4 to 5 feet (1.22 to 1.5 m) Wingspan: 8 to 10 feet (2.4 to 3 m)
Weight: 10 to 20 pounds (4.5 to 9 kg)
Diet: Carrion, termites, flamingos, fish and small mammals
Distribution: Africa, south of the Sahara
Young:  2 to 5 chicks, once a year
Animal Predators:  Unknown
IUCN Status: No special status
Terms: Young: Chick  Group: Muster
Lifespan: Up to 25 years



·      The soft, white tail feathers are known as marabou and were once used in ladies’ fashions.

·      The marabou is the largest of the storks and one of the largest flying birds in the world.

·      Marabous have hollow leg and toe bones.

·      They have keen eyesight and can spot prey or carcasses long distances away.



Unlike the typical vision of storks as beautiful white birds, marabou storks are strangely unattractive, more resembling vultures than storks. Marabous have the long legs typical of storks, with long, broad dark grey or black wings with white edged feathers. They have a grizzled red, naked neck with a pouch hanging from the throat, a mottled red and black featherless head, a massive, wedge-shaped bill and short toes for walking on dry land. Females are similar to males in appearance, but slightly smaller.



Marabou storks are found throughout Africa, south of the Sahara Desert, although they have become rare in the country of South Africa due to habitat destruction. They prefer arid conditions and will temporarily move during the rainy season. The unsightly appearance of marabou storks, combined with their unsanitary habits (their legs are usually covered with excrement, and their necks, heads and bills are covered with blood from poking around in carcasses) make them an unattractive target for hunters. These birds are not completely unappreciated, however. Some residents in towns where they dwell appreciate marabou storks’ willingness to eat carcasses and garbage, thereby removing it from their area and reducing the number of rodents and risk of disease. 


Feeding Habits

Although marabou storks are not related to vultures, they often act as scavengers, soaring above the ground looking for carcasses to feed on, and often find themselves in the company of vultures. In areas where there are large human populations, marabous make frequent visits to the local garbage dump. They can become quite tame, waiting at slaughterhouses for the workers to throw them scraps. Marabous also eat live prey, including termites, flamingos, fish and small mammals. 



Marabous reach sexual maturity at about four years of age. The male establishes a nesting territory, and treats all intruders with hostility by inflating his throat pouch, rattling his bill and making grunts and snorts. A female who is interested is submissive towards the male. Once a pair is established, the bond is for life. The male brings sticks of various sizes and leaves to the female, who builds the nest. The storks return to the same nest year after year. Nests are built in large colonies of several stork species, as well as pelicans, herons and cormorants. When the eggs are laid, both parents take turns keeping them warm for the next 30 to 50 days, until they hatch. The chicks are helpless at birth, and the parents take turns feeding them. While the down-covered white chicks are small, at least one parent is always with them, keeping them warm and making sure they are safe. They grow quickly, and may begin learning to fly at two months, closely watched by their parents, who teach them to hunt. They do not become independent until they are between four and five months of age. 



Marabous are outgoing and gather in large groups to feed, bathe or rest. They can be seen perching high in trees or on cliffs, where they build their nests. Unlike other storks, marabous fly with their necks tucked in, rather than extended.



Marabou populations may be increasing and are not of conservation concern at this time. 



Marabou Stork Wildlife Fact File, IM Pub, US

Harrison, C. and Greensmith, A. (1993). Birds of the World. London: Dorling Kindersley Limited