Facts About the Shoebill

Facts about the shoebill are extremely interesting, and learning about this fascinating bird is a fun way to expand horizons and come to know a misunderstood creature, too.

Check out this list of 21 exciting fun facts about the shoebill that you probably didn’t know or have ever heard before!

Photo by Michael Gwyther-Jones from UK – Shoebill, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=71494192

Fact #1:
They are called shoebills because their beaks are shaped like shoes.

The beak of this bird is just one of the many exciting and unique shoebill adaptations that it has made to help survive in the wild. These beaks are perfect for hunting and fishing in the places where shoebills live, and they’re ideal for scooping prey out of the water.

Fact #2:
The tips of their beaks are very sharp and used to cut prey in half or decapitate them.

The shoebill, or Balaeniceps, has a very sharp beak tip that is meant for cutting their prey in half and making it easier to swallow. Sometimes, the beaks on these birds can also be used to decapitate their prey. This may sound gruesome, but it’s just a normal part of life for the shoebill.

Fact #3:
A fully-grown shoebill is around 4 feet long and 5 feet tall.

Many humans are not much taller than five feet, so shoebills are definitely large birds! They can also weigh up to about 12 pounds, making them a formidable part of the animal kingdom.

Fact #4:
A shoebill’s wingspan can be up to five times larger than its body.

As big as a shoebill’s body is, its wingspan can be even larger. It usually comes in at four to five times bigger than the bird’s body itself.

Fact #5:
The shoebill’s feet are like a dinosaur’s.

The shoebill’s scientific name is Balaeniceps rex. This may sound like a dinosaur’s name, and there’s a very good reason for that! Like all birds, shoebills are a descendant of dinosaurs. The shoebill’s feet and claws look very similar to many dinosaur fossils, including two that it is believed these birds came from.

Fact #6:
Male shoebills are bigger in weight, height, and bill size than females.

Male shoebills are usually upwards of 12 pounds, while females are about 10 or 11 pounds. They are a little bit taller and even have bigger beaks than their female counterparts. However, male and female shoebills don’t look very different outside of these changes.

Fact #7:
Shoebills can live to be up to 35 years old.

While not as long-lived as some types of birds, shoebills can nevertheless live a long time in the wild. 35 years is the standard, but some may live a little less or more than this. When they’re kept in captivity, this number may go up a little bit, too.

Fact #8:
They make sounds similar to machine guns.

Although they do have some vocal calls and cries that they use to communicate with each other, shoebills tend to make a clattering sound with their large beaks that is described as sounding like a machine gun being fired. This can be extremely startling to hear in the middle of the wilderness.

Fact #9:
They can be known to attack each other, especially when they’re young.

These birds are not always friendly to each other, and in fact, they may attack each other sometimes without much warning. When two birds in the same nest are still young, they are prone to beating each other up. One may even kill the other in some instances, and this is not all that uncommon among shoebills.

Fact #10:
They stand still until prey gets close, and then ambush.

Shoebill predators are very good at what they do. They stand as still and quiet as a statue until their prey gets close, and then they ambush suddenly to grab fish and other creatures out of the water. This works especially well when hunting for fish, but it is also a good strategy against lizards and small birds.

Fact #11:
They can eat crocodiles, but prefer monitor lizards, eels, and lungfish.

There are many rumors of shoebills eating prey as big as crocodiles or cows, but these are more or less just rumors. These birds mostly like to eat their favorite lungfish along with eels, lizards, and other similar prey. They may eat rodents or small water birds if their other options are scarce.

Fact #12:
Shoebills are loners.

The shoebill diet is easy for these birds to maintain since they are loners and tend to only worry about feeding themselves. As soon as babies are big enough to be on their own, families of shoebills go their separate ways. Breeding pairs do not stick together for very long, either.

Fact #13:
The shoebill builds its nest around 3km away from other nests.

These birds like some distance away from others of their species and prefer to keep their nests far apart. They do not, however, stay so far apart that they can’t have some strength in numbers if it’s necessary, especially against larger predators.

Fact #14:
Shoebill nests are built on top of swamp grass.

Shoebills don’t like to nest in trees or directly on the ground. Instead, they prefer to stay in the water where their food is located. However, they still need a place to lay their eggs. For this reason, shoebills tend to nest on dense vegetation floating on the surface of swamps and marshes.

Fact #15:
Shoebills breed during the dry season so nests won’t be damaged by flood waters.

Since they live in wetlands and swamps, shoebills need dry weather for breeding and nesting. This prevents their nests and eggs from being swept away by floods when the water levels rise during the rainy season. It’s easier and safer for shoebills to raise their chicks before the weather becomes too wet.

Fact #16:
A shoebill can lay two or three eggs per breeding season, a few days apart from each other.

Most shoebills lay two eggs, one of which is considered a “backup” in case the first chick doesn’t survive. Sometimes, they will lay three, but this is less common. These eggs usually come a few days apart from each other rather than all at the same time like many other birds.

Fact #17:
Shoebills are vulnerable and almost endangered.

Is the shoebill endangered? The shoebill is a vulnerable species that is extremely close to being endangered. The last report was made in August of 2018, and at this time the birds were getting closer than ever to being reclassified as an endangered species. This is why there are many conservation efforts in place to ensure populations of these birds in the wild can come back.

Fact #18:
Shoebills are hunted, both for trade and or food.

Unfortunately, shoebills are hunted, and this is one of the reasons why their numbers are fading out in the wild. They are usually hunted for trade and sold as exotic pets, although this is illegal. They are also sometimes eaten as food.

Fact #19:
Shoebills can fly and soar, but they don’t travel far this way.

The shoebill prefers to walk on its long, spindly legs rather than to fly around very far. However, it can fly, and its wings are built specifically for soaring. These birds do not hunt by flying, however, so they simply do not stay in the air any longer than they have to when going from place to place.

Fact #20:
The shoebill’s wings are usually used for balance.

Since the shoebill has very long legs and since it lives a lot of its live standing on plant life floating in swamps, it usually uses its wings for balance rather than for anything else. The long wingspan of the shoebill helps it stay upright without tipping over when walking on swampy vegetation, and this, in turn, makes it easier to hunt for their favorite fish.

Fact #21:
The shoebill cools down using its own poop.

One of the more surprising shoebill stork facts is that it can cool itself down using its own poop. Like most types of birds, the shoebill has liquid poop. This poop is also much cooler than the shoebill itself, so the bird often poops on its own legs to keep itself feeling refreshed throughout the day. This may sound a little gross, but when it’s very hot outside these birds have to do something to stay cool!

What facts about the shoebill have you learned today?

The shoebill is an incredible bird, but it is unfortunately it is vulnerable and very near to being classified as endangered. What sort of conservation efforts are being made to help this bird? Many groups are working to strengthen bans against trading shoebills and improve surveillance in areas where they are hunted. These groups also want to prevent humans and livestock animals from access to shoebill breeding grounds. If these efforts can be put into motion, they should help preserve the remaining shoebill habitats and increase their numbers in the wild at the same time.