Shoebill, Africa’s Most Exotic Bird?

The day before yesterday (24 Jan 2013), I traveled to the island of Bussi (in Lake Victoria), located just off the coast of mainland Uganda.  To get to the island, we took a short trip in a primitive narrow wooden boat equipped with a motor.  The trip took us through the heart of the large Mabamba Bay Wetland, which is blessed with a large variety of birds.  The most unusual of which is the threatened shoebill.

The Mabamba Bay Wetland with Shoebill in the Background

The Mabamba Bay Wetland with Shoebill in the Background

Yesterday, I took a short scenic boat trip along two of the marsh’s narrow waterways, some were almost too narrow for our boat.  We were searching for shoebills.  The group in the boat included the boatman, the wildlife guide, two children from Bussi Island, and me.

After an hour, the boatman spotted one in the distance.  While trying to get closer, we ran across another, just in front of our boat.  The boatman steadied our boat in the reeds and we watched the large bird for over 15 minutes.  The shoebill didn’t seem very concerned with our presence.  It would look at us occasionally and then go back to its “normal” routine,  hunting for lungfish and catfish.

The Anthropomorphic Stare of the Shoebill, Africa's Most Exotic Bird

The Anthropomorphic Stare of the Shoebill, Africa’s Most Exotic Bird

A mature shoebill stands over 5 feet tall and has an unusual head and bill, and that’s where it gets its name.  The bird is more anthropomorphic than other avians of a similar size like cranes, storks, and herons.  This gives the casual observer a very eerie feeling.  It is almost like viewing a muppet, a companion for Big Bird.  The shoebill has no close genetic relatives.

The blue-colored bird has a huge wing span, totaling 9 feet.  To view one in the wild is very impressive.  While I was watching in the Mabambe Bay Wetland, the shoebill stretched its wings as if to showoff its massive size.

A Shoebill Showing Off It's Exordinary Wing Span

A Shoebill Showing Off It’s Exordinary Wing Span

The bay is a major breeding site for the shoebill and is one of places in Uganda that has the highest concentration of the species.

The Mabamba Bay reserve is certainly one of the habitats in the world that needs to be protected.  It has a wonderful collection of birds, perhaps as many as 300 different varieties, including herons, cranes, egrets, kingfishers, bee-eaters, warblers, and several varieties of ducks.  I wetland is also home to a marsh antelope, the sitatunga.

So when you get to Uganda, please visit Mabamba Bay.  This will encourage the locals to preserve what they have.  This is eco-tourism at its best.

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One Response to Shoebill, Africa’s Most Exotic Bird?

  1. rogerdhansen says:

    In January 2014, I returned to Mabamba Bay. Here is a list of some of the birds that I saw: maiachite kingfisher, pied kingfisher, African jacana, long-tailed cormorant, squacco heron, common sandpiper, hammer kops, violet weaver, long-toed lapwing, white-winged tern, spur-winged goose, and yellow-billed duck. And, of course, Africa’s strangest bird, the shoe-bill stork.

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