Marabou Stork *
A Marabou Stork is about as unattractive as a bird can be, with its head covered in scabby black spots, inflatable air sacks, and poop covered hollow legs. Yes, that’s right – poop covered hollow legs.
You see, coating their legs with their own feces regulates their body temperature. Their legs aren’t actually white at all – it’s just poop.
They can reach a height of nearly 5 feet. To put that in perspective, imagine a toddler standing next to one.
The Marabou Stork’s coloring (It appears to be dressed in a black tailcoat and white collared shirt.) and its creepy looking head have earned it the nickname Undertaker Bird.
But bless its spooky carnivore heart, it does mate for life.
Marabou Storks are carnivore carrion (dead animal) eaters, consuming termites, snakes, flamingo chicks, baby crocodiles and other reptiles in the wild. They’re often seen feeding with vultures, which they dominate.
In cities and villages, they hang around garbage dumps, slaughterhouses, and fish processing establishments, acting as the city’s unofficial garbage collectors. As annoying as this may seem, Marabous actually help to keep diseases from spreading.
Tourists used to visit the Masai Mara/Serengeti in order to see Marabou Storks in very large flocks. Nowadays, the birds have become a big city, town and village attraction.
In Nairobi, one can easily spot flocks of Marabou Storks on Mombasa Road, a busy thoroughfare near a place known as Nyayo Stadium, as they stand or perch motionless on trees and buildings.
They are seen all over Kampala, Uganda as well.
The president of Uganda tried to have them relocated once, but all efforts failed.
In Uganda, corruption is considered to be a way of life. Like Marabou Storks, corrupt officials feed on anything that comes their way. That’s why Ugandans have honored the Marabou with the dubious title of Unofficial National Bird of Uganda.
Some believe the Marabou’s numbers are rising due to the increasing human population which is accompanied by the increasing number of garbage dumps. They’re classified as “Least Concern” in terms of endangerment.
* Why feature the Marabou Stork?
There’s a bit (very small bit) of an urban theme going on this week, what with the city restaurant write-up and the matatu posts, so it seemed appropriate to feature one of Nairobi’s town birds – the Marabou Stork.
**The Ugly Five, by Julia Donaldson, is a children’s book that celebrates inner beauty and accepting who you are, while also informing kids about African animals. Our friend the Marabou Stork is one of The Ugly Five.