shoebill stork, common name for a large (up to 54 in./122 cm) tall, storklike bird, Balaeniceps rex. Also known as the whalehead, it is noted for its large head and unusually long and wide, many-colored bill, which ends in a hooked tip. It has broad wings and long, strong legs with large, unwebbed feet. A 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, where it feeds on a diet of frogs, small crocodiles, and especially lungfish and other mud puddle fish. It obtains this diet by probing the mud with its bootlike bill. Partially nocturnal, it tends to be sluggish but is nonetheless a strong flyer and soarer. In several respects, shoebills are similar to herons, e.g., they fly with their heads and necks folded back. A ground nester, the shoebill deposits its one or two chalky white eggs in a nest of grasses on a high, dry spot, where its downy young remain, helpless for some time after hatching. Shoebills are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Ciconiiformes, family Balaenicipitidae.
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