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Temporal range: Late Miocene to Recent
Leptoptilos crumeniferus -Brevard Zoo, Florida, USA-8a.jpg
Marabou stork at Brevard Zoo, Florida, United States
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Ciconiiformes
Family: Ciconiidae
Genus: Leptoptilos
Lesson, 1831
Type species
Ardea crumenifer
Lesson, 1831

L. javanicus
L. dubius
L. crumenifer



Leptoptilos is a genus of very large tropical storks, also known as the adjutant bird. 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.


Extant species[edit]

Image Scientific name Common name Distribution
Lesser adjutant.jpg Leptoptilos javanicus Lesser adjutant South and Southeast Asia, from India and Sri Lanka to Indonesia
Greater Adjutant Leptoptilos dubius by Dr. Raju Kasambe (1).JPG Leptoptilos dubius Greater adjutant northern India to mainland southeast Asia
Leptoptilos crumenifer00.jpg Leptoptilos crumenifer[1] Marabou stork Africa south of the Sahara


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).[2]

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. ^ David, N.; Gosselin, M. (2011). "Gender agreement of avian species-group names under Article 31.2.2 of the ICZN Code". Bull. Brit. Orn. Club. 131 (2): 103–115.
  2. ^ Meijer, Hanneke J. M.; Sutikna, Thomas; Wahyu Saptomo, E.; Tocheri, Matthew W. "More bones of Leptoptilos robustus from Flores reveal new insights into giant marabou stork paleobiology and biogeography". Royal Society Open Science. 9 (7): 220435. doi:10.1098/rsos.220435.
  3. ^ 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: 707–724. doi:10.1111/j.1096-3642.2010.00616.x.