The Shoebill is a rather bizarre stork-like bird that is restricted to large papyrus swamps in remote regions of the DRC, Rwanda, Zambia, Tanzania, Sudan and Uganda, with the majority residing in the world’s newest nation, Southern Sudan. The Shoebill is placed in its own monotypic family and was traditionally thought to be related to storks; however, recent DNA evidence suggests that it is more closely related to pelicans. As is obvious in this great shot taken by Jonathan Rossouw, it derives its name from its very distinctive and massive shoe-shaped bill, which reaches an impressive 30cm (12″) in length. Its scientific name Balaeniceps rex is translated as “King Whalehead” referring to this strange bird’s head and bill shape. Typically feeding in muddy waters, they use these huge bills to prey on fish, frogs, reptiles (including baby crocodiles), and even small mammals.
With an estimated population of between 5,000 and 8,000 birds, the Shoebill is classified as vulnerable, with the main threats being habitat destruction, human disturbance and hunting. Fortunately, however, the population is fairly stable in Uganda where it is also most easily seen, and we are proud to say that we have never missed this iconic species on the previous 37 birding tours we have operated in this fantastic birding nation!