Restricted to large swamps from Sudan to Zambia, the shoebill (Balaeniceps rex) is a wading bird with a large shoe-like bill (hence the name). They use their huge beak to scoop vertebrate prey from the swampy waters. The shoebill has long legs and large feet which helps them to move through deep swamps and stand upon aquatic vegetation.
Their beak is straw coloured and their plumage is blue-grey with darker feathers on their wings. The shoebill actually has the third longest bill among extant birds, after large storks and pelicans. This species has a mighty wingspan which makes them adapted for soaring short distances with only a few wing flaps.
The shoebill prefers poorly oxygenated shallow water as fish surface more often, becoming easy prey for this stalking bird. They are mostly silent and solitary birds although they will perform bill-clattering displays during the nesting season to attract a mate.
The IUCN Red List classifies these majestic birds as ‘vulnerable’ since they are threatened by habitat destruction, hunting and human disturbance. With their huge beak, glaring eyes and long, spindly legs they can seem rather intimidating – like a modern day dinosaur. However, they are a one-of-a-kind species, appearing to be somewhere in-between a stork and a pelican, and are yet another animal which is threatened by human behaviour so they deserve our protection.