Marabou stork

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Marabou stork
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Ciconiiformes
Family: Ciconiidae
Genus: Leptoptilos
L. crumenifer
Binomial name
Leptoptilos crumenifer
(Lesson, RP, 1831)
  • Ciconia crumenifera
  • Leptoptilos crumeniferus

The marabou stork (Leptoptilos crumenifer) is a large wading bird in the stork family Ciconiidae native to sub-Saharan Africa. It breeds in both wet and arid habitats, often near human habitation, especially landfill sites. It is sometimes called the "undertaker bird" due to its shape from behind: cloak-like wings and back, skinny white legs, and sometimes a large white mass of "hair".[2][better source needed]


The marabou stork was formally described in 1831 by the French naturalist René Lesson. He placed it in the stork genus Ciconia and coined the binomial name Ciconia crumenifera. He specified that locality as Senegal.[3] The species is now placed with the lesser adjutant and the greater adjutant in the genus Leptoptilos that Lesson had introduced at the same time he described the marabou stork.[4] The species is monotypic: no subspecies are recognised.[4]

The common name marabou is thought to be derived from the Arabic word murābit meaning quiet or hermit-like.[5] The species was originally described as Ciconia crumenifera. When the species was moved into the genus Leptoptilos, the ending was modified to crumeniferus and this was used by many authors until it was noted that the correct masculine ending to match the genus is crumenifer.[6]


The marabou stork is a massive bird: large specimens are thought to reach a height of 152 centimetres (4.99 feet) and a weight of 9 kg (20 lb).[7][8] A wingspan of 3.7 m (12 ft) was accepted by Fisher and Peterson, who ranked the species as having the largest wing-spread of any living bird. Even higher measurements of up to 4.06 m (13.3 ft) have been reported, although no measurement over 3.20 m (10.5 ft) has been verified.[citation needed] It is often credited with the largest spread of any landbird, to rival the Andean condor; more typically, however, these storks measure 225–287 cm (7–9 ft) across the wings, which is about a foot less than the average Andean condor wingspan and nearly two feet less than the average of the largest albatrosses and pelicans. Typical weight is 4.5–8 kg (9.9–17.6 lb), unusually as low as 4 kg (8.8 lb), and length (from bill to tail) is 120 to 130 cm (47 to 51 in). Females are smaller than males. Bill length can range from 26.4 to 35 cm (10.4 to 13.8 in).[9][10][11] Unlike most storks, the three Leptoptilos species fly with the neck retracted like a heron.

The marabou is unmistakable due to its size, bare head and neck, black back, and white underparts. It has a huge bill, a pink gular sac at its throat (crumenifer(us) means "carrier of a pouch for money"), a neck ruff, and white legs and black wings. The sexes are alike, but the young bird is browner and has a smaller bill. Full maturity is not reached for up to four years.

Behavior and ecology[edit]

Like most storks, the marabou is gregarious and a colonial breeder. In the African dry season (when food is more readily available as the pools shrink), it builds a tree nest in which two or three eggs are laid. It is known to be quite ill-tempered.

It also resembles other storks in that it is not very vocal, but indulges in bill-rattling courtship displays. The throat sac is also used to make various noises at that time.


The marabou stork breeds in Africa south of the Sahara. In East Africa, the birds interact with humans and breed in urban areas. In southern African countries, the birds breed mainly in less populated areas.[12] The marabou stork breeds in colonies, starting during the dry season. The female lays two to three eggs in a small nest made of sticks; eggs hatch after an incubation period of 30 days. Their young reach sexual maturity at 4 years of age. Lifespan is 43 years in captivity and 25 years in wild.[13]


in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda
A Marabou stork and Griffon vultures (G. fulvus) scavenging in the Masai Mara, Kenya

The marabou stork is a frequent scavenger, and the naked head and long neck are adaptations to this livelihood, as it is with the vultures with which the stork often feeds. In both cases, a feathered head would become rapidly clotted with blood and other substances when the bird's head was inside a large corpse, and the bare head is easier to keep clean.[citation needed]

This large and powerful bird eats mainly carrion, scraps, and faeces but will opportunistically eat almost any animal matter it can swallow. It occasionally eats other birds including Quelea nestlings, pigeons, doves, pelican and cormorant chicks, and even flamingos. During the breeding season, adults scale back on carrion and take mostly small, live prey since nestlings need this kind of food to survive. Common prey at this time may consist of fish, frogs, insects, eggs, small mammals and reptiles such as crocodile hatchlings and eggs,[9] and lizards and snakes.[14] Though known to eat putrid and seemingly inedible foods, these storks may sometimes wash food in water to remove soil.[15]

When feeding on carrion, marabou frequently follow vultures, which are better equipped with hooked bills for tearing through carrion meat and may wait for the vultures to cast aside a piece, steal a piece of meat directly from the vulture or wait until the vultures are done.[9] As with vultures, marabou storks perform an important natural function by cleaning areas via their ingestion of carrion and waste.

Increasingly, marabous have become dependent on human garbage and hundreds of the huge birds can be found around African dumps or waiting for a hand out in urban areas. Marabous eating human garbage have been seen to devour virtually anything that they can swallow, including shoes and pieces of metal. Marabous conditioned to eating from human sources have been known to lash out when refused food.[9]


Fully grown marabou storks have few natural enemies, and have high annual survival rate,[16] though lions have reportedly preyed on some individuals in ambush.[17] A number of endoparasites have been identified in wild marabous including Cheilospirura, Echinura and Acuaria nematodes, Amoebotaenia sphenoides (Cestoda) and Dicrocoelium hospes (Trematoda).[18]

Human uses[edit]

1920 cloak, hem trimmed with marabou feathers

Marabou down is frequently used in the trimming of various items of clothing and hats, as well as fishing lures.[19] Turkey down and similar feathers have been used as a substitute for making 'marabou' trimming.[20]



  1. ^ BirdLife International (2016). "Leptoptilos crumenifer". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2016: e.T22697716A93633034. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T22697716A93633034.en. Retrieved 12 November 2021.
  2. ^ Bancroft, Thomas (20 March 2020). "The Undertaker Bird – Enchanted by the Wild".
  3. ^ Lesson, René (1831). Traité d'Ornithologie, ou Tableau Méthodique (in French). Vol. 1. Paris: F.G. Levrault. p. 585 (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.
  4. ^ a b 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.
  5. ^ Yule, Henry (1903). Hobson-Jobson. A glossary of colloquial Anglo-Indian words and phrases, and of kindred terms, etymological, historical, geographical and discursive (2nd ed.). London: John Murray. p. 7.
  6. ^ David, N.; Gosselin, M. (2011). "Gender agreement of avian species-group names under Art. 31.2.2 of the ICZN Code". Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club. 131 (2): 103–115 [105–106].
  7. ^ Likoff, Laurie E. (1986). The Encyclopedia of Birds. Infobase Publishing. pp. 616–. ISBN 978-0-8160-5904-1. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  8. ^ Stevenson, Terry and Fanshawe, John (2001). Field Guide to the Birds of East Africa: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi. Elsevier Science, ISBN 978-0856610790
  9. ^ a b c d Hancock, Kushlan & Kahl, Storks, Storks, Ibises and Spoonbills of the World. Princeton University Press (1992), ISBN 978-0-12-322730-0
  10. ^ Carwardine, Animal Records (Natural History Museum). Sterling (2008), ISBN 978-1-4027-5623-8
  11. ^ Wood, Gerald (1983). The Guinness Book of Animal Facts and Feats. Guinness Superlatives. ISBN 978-0-85112-235-9.
  12. ^ Monadjem, Ara (October 2005). "Breeding biology of the Marabou Stork (Leptoptilos crumeniferus)in Swaziland". Ostrich. 76 (3&4): 185–189. doi:10.2989/00306520509485491. ISSN 0030-6525. Wikidata Q115612348.
  13. ^ Muckley, A. "Leptoptilos crumeniferus". University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. Animal Diversity Web.
  14. ^ "Marabou stork photo – Leptoptilos crumeniferus – G62878 | Arkive". Archived from the original on 7 February 2018. Retrieved 22 June 2017.
  15. ^ Seibt, U. & Wickler, W. (1978). "Marabou Storks Wash Dung Beetles". Zeitschrift für Tierpsychologie. 46 (3): 324–327. doi:10.1111/j.1439-0310.1978.tb01453.x.
  16. ^ Kahl M. (2009) ‘ A Contribution to the Ecology and Reproductive Biology of the Marabou Stork (Leptoptilos Crumeniferus) in East Africa’, Journal of Zoology, 148: 289–311.
  17. ^ Tumenta, P. N. et al. 2013. Lion predation on livestock and native wildlife in Waza National Park, northern Cameroon.– Mammalia 77: 247–251.
  18. ^ Bwangamoi, O.; Dranzoa, C.; Ocaido, M.; Kamatei, G. S (2003). "Gastro-intestinal helminths of marabou stork (Leptoptilos crumeniferus)". African Journal of Ecology. 41 (1): 111–113. Bibcode:2003AfJEc..41..111B. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2028.2003.00418.x.
  19. ^ The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English 2008 (Oxford University Press, 2008)
  20. ^ Hellekson, Terry (2005). Fish flies : the encyclopedia of the fly tier's art (1st ed.). Salt Lake City: Gibbs Smith. p. 91. ISBN 9781586856922.

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