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Temporal range: Late Miocene to Recent
Marabou stork near South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Ciconiiformes
Family: Ciconiidae
Genus: Leptoptilos
Lesson, RP, 1831
Type species
Ardea argala = Ardea dubia
Latham, 1790

L. crumenifer
L. dubius
L. javanicus



Leptoptilos is a genus of very large tropical storks, commonly known as adjutants. The name means thin (lepto) feather (ptilos). Two species are resident breeders in southern Asia, and the marabou stork is found in Sub-Saharan Africa.

These are huge birds, typically 110–150 cm tall with a 210–250 cm wingspan. The three species each have a black upper body and wings, and white belly and undertail. The head and neck are bare like those of a vulture. The huge bill is long and thick. Juveniles are a duller, browner version of the adult.

Leptoptilos storks are gregarious colonial breeders in wetlands, building large stick nests in trees. They feed on frogs, insects, young birds, lizards and rodents. They are frequent scavengers, and the naked head and neck are adaptations to this, as are those of the vultures with which they often feed. A feathered head would become rapidly clotted with blood and other substances when a scavenging bird's head was inside a large corpse, and the bare head is easier to keep clean.

Most storks fly with neck outstretched, but the three Leptoptilos storks retract their necks in flight like a heron.

Taxonomy and species[edit]

The genus Leptoptilos was introduced in 1831 by the French naturalist René Lesson.[1] The genus name combines the Ancient Greek leptos meaning "delicate" or "slender" with ptilon meaning "feather".[2] The type species was subsequently designated as the greater adjutant by George Robert Gray.[3][4]

The genus contains three extant species.[5]

Genus LeptoptilosLesson, RP, 1831 – three species
Common name Scientific name and subspecies Range Size and ecology IUCN status and estimated population
Marabou stork

Leptoptilos crumenifer
(Lesson, RP, 1831)
Africa south of the Sahara
Map of range



Lesser adjutant

Leptoptilos javanicus
(Horsfield, 1821)
South and Southeast Asia, from India and Sri Lanka to Indonesia Size:



Greater adjutant

Leptoptilos dubius
(Gmelin, JF,, 1789)
northern India to mainland southeast Asia
Map of range




There is an ample fossil record of this genus. Many fossils members of the genus were much larger than living species, standing as tall as a man, with the earliest being Leptoptilos falconeri from the Pliocene of Afro-Eurasia. Giant Leptoptilos storks survived into the Late Pleistocene on the Southeast Asian islands of Java (L. titan) and Flores (L. robustus).[6]

Leptoptilos siwalicensis from the Siwalik deposits (Late Miocene? to Late Pliocene) may belong to this genus or to a closely related one (Louchart et al. 2005).

In culture[edit]

The adjutant bird features in the arms of Baron Sinha. In the satirical French puppet show Le Bébête Show, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing was, for a time, depicted as a Leptoptilos.


  1. ^ Lesson, René (1831). Traité d'Ornithologie, ou Tableau Méthodique (in French). Vol. 1. Paris: F.G. Levrault. p. 583 (Livraison 8). Published in 8 livraisons between 1830 and 1831. For the publication date see: Dickinson, E.C.; Overstreet, L.K.; Dowsett, R.J.; Bruce, M.D. (2011). Priority! The Dating of Scientific Names in Ornithology: a Directory to the literature and its reviewers. Northampton, UK: Aves Press. p. 119. ISBN 978-0-9568611-1-5.
  2. ^ Jobling, James A. (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 222. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  3. ^ Gray, George Robert (1840). A List of the Genera of Birds : with an Indication of the Typical Species of Each Genus. London: R. and J.E. Taylor. p. 67.
  4. ^ Mayr, Ernst; Cottrell, G. William, eds. (1979). Check-List of Birds of the World. Vol. 1 (2nd ed.). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Museum of Comparative Zoology. p. 251.
  5. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David; Rasmussen, Pamela, eds. (August 2022). "Storks, frigatebirds, boobies, darters, cormorants". IOC World Bird List Version 12.2. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 16 November 2022.
  6. ^ Meijer, Hanneke J. M.; Sutikna, Thomas; Wahyu Saptomo, E.; Tocheri, Matthew W. (2022). "More bones of Leptoptilos robustus from Flores reveal new insights into giant marabou stork paleobiology and biogeography". Royal Society Open Science. 9 (7): 220435. Bibcode:2022RSOS....920435M. doi:10.1098/rsos.220435. PMC 9277297. PMID 35845853. S2CID 250459008.
  7. ^ Meijer HJ, Due RA (2010). "A new species of giant marabou stork (Aves: Ciconiiformes) from the Pleistocene of Liang Bua, Flores (Indonesia)". Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. 160 (4): 707–724. doi:10.1111/j.1096-3642.2010.00616.x.