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The Prehistoric Bird That Leaves Its Young To Starve

It hunts by standing on top of aquatic vegetation – That might not sound that exciting, but when you consider these birds can weigh in excess of seven kilograms (15.4 pounds) and reach up to 150 centimetres (4 feet 9 inches) in height, it takes a great level of balance and poise to remain afloat on swampy vegetation. That’s why shoebills are described as ‘statue-like’ by observers: they’re slow and still until they’re ready to strike!

It’s one of the slowest flying birds in the world – When the shoebill flies – which it really isn’t keen on doing – it flaps its wings 150 times per minute. By comparison, the only birds to flap slower than that are certain huge types of stork (jabiru and maguari, to be exact) and even they manage to fly further on each journey. The shoebill never likes to be far from its nest, though, never venturing any more than 500 metres (0.3 miles) away.

The shoebill – also referred to as a ‘whalehead’ or a ‘shoe-billed stork’ – nests in papyrus swamps and likes to be alone.

It’ll happily kill its siblings – Shoebills can be quite aggressive when they are young. The birds are relatively helpless when they are growing up. They rely on food from the parent birds to survive, but in the swamps, food is often hard to come by and some chicks have been seen attacking their weaker siblings, causing the parent to reject the smaller bird and focus on raising the bigger, aggressive youngster to ensure at least one of its chicks survives.

That big bill decapitates its prey – The shoebill uses that eponymous beak to hunt large prey below the swampy surface where it lives. It can kill lungfish up to one metre (3.3 feet) long, but to do this it needs an offensive tactic. This usually involves using the sharp edges of the bill to slice a fish’s head off. Using this method of hunting, the shoebill can feed on snakes, frogs and has even reportedly hunted young lechwe calves! The birds hunt at night, appearing statue-like to ambush their prey.

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