Uganda is a home of various bird species and one of the most interesting birds that one has to watch is a shoebill. This solitary, silent bird, the shoebill stork is native to the marshy banks of the papyrus swamps of the East African White Nile and its tributaries. It feeds on frogs, small crocodiles, lungfish, mud puddle fish etc. It gets its food by probing the mud with its boot like bill. Partially nocturnal, it tends to be sluggish but is nonetheless a strong flyer and soarer.
This large bird is mostly in areas with water like swamps, wetlands as they usually get what to eat from muddy areas. Shoebill is significantly attractive because of its huge, bulbous bill which is straw-coloured with erratic greyish markings. One of the most distinctive features of the Shoebill that makes it appealing to birdwatchers is its huge, wide, and sharp shoe-shaped bill from which it derives its name and this bill help it to forage in swampy vegetation for food. Other features that make shoebill unique, interesting and different of others are: medium blue-grey feathers, the legs and others.
Shoebills live in wetland areas and in Uganda, they are mostly found in protected habitats of Queen Elizabeth and Murchison Fall National Park. However, they are also found in non-protected areas of Mahamba swamps in Wakiso District one of the best destination for shoebill tour,Nabajjuzi wetland in Masaka District and Lake Opeta in Katakwi District. They mostly live in area with mixed vegetation. The shoebill is noted for its slow movements and tendency to stay still for long periods, resulting in descriptions of the species as “statue-like”.
There are few interesting facts about shoebill which makes it worth to watch with the experience that one should not miss. The Shoebill Stork has outstanding prehistoric looks and has a massive shoe shaped bill. It’s usually about 150cm tall and can weigh up to 14 pounds. The Arabs used to call the Shoebill Stork –“Abu Maruk” meaning father of the shoe – one could call the Shoebill Stork a flying shoe because of the unique bill. The shoebill is a solitary bird with has a lifespan of about 50 or more years and always prefer to live alone. Shoebills make an interesting sound voice as a means of communication during the nesting season where both the young and adults utter a cow-like moo sound and bill-clattering. This occurs during nesting seasons and when the young are begging for food make a sound uncannily like human hiccups. The shoebill has a tendency of bowing when people move closer to it which makes to be a darling and interesting bird to birdwatchers.
When in flight, it holds it wings flat while soaring and flies with its neck retracted at a flapping rate. During the breeding period, the breeding pair occupies different parts of the territory; the male birds live alone, and the female birds live alone. Like most birds, the female Shoebill will lay a number of eggs that will hatch. However, only one bird survives to maturity due to sibling rivalry, with the older chick killing off the others.