Marabou stork

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Marabou stork
Marabou stork (Leptoptilos crumenifer).jpg
Marabou stork (Leptoptilos crumenifer) in flight 2.jpg
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Ciconiiformes
Family: Ciconiidae
Genus: Leptoptilos
L. crumenifer
Binomial name
Leptoptilos crumenifer
(Lesson, 1831)
Leptoptilos crumeniferus distribution map.png
  • Ciconia crumenifera
  • Leptoptilos crumeniferus

The marabou stork (Leptoptilos crumenifer) is a large wading bird in the stork family Ciconiidae. It breeds in Africa south of the Sahara, 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".[citation needed]

Taxonomy and systematics[edit]

The name marabou is thought to be derived from the Amharic word [Merebu] meaning a net.[2] The species was originally described in the stork genus Ciconia as Ciconia crumenifera by Lesson. The species was moved into the genus Leptospirosi and the ending was modified to cruciferaris and used by many authors until it was noted that the correct masculine ending to match the genus is cruciferari.[3]


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).[4][5] 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).[6][7][8] 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 black legs and 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 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.[9]


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,[6] and lizards and snakes.[10] Though known to eat putrid and seemingly inedible foods, these storks may sometimes wash food in water to remove soil.[11]

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.[6] 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.[6]


Fully grown marabou storks have few natural enemies, and have high annual survival rate,[12] though lions have reportedly preyed on some individuals in ambush.[13] A number of endoparasites have been identified in wild marabous including Cheilospirura, Echinura and Acuaria nematodes, Amoebotaenia sphenoides (Cestoda) and Dicrocoelium hospes (Trematoda).[14]

Human uses[edit]

Marabou down is frequently used in the trimming of various items of clothing and hats, as well as fishing lures.[15] Turkey down and similar feathers have been used as a substitute for making 'marabou' trimming.[16]



  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. ^ 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.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ Likoff, Laurie E. (1986). The Encyclopedia of Birds. Infobase Publishing. pp. 616–. ISBN 978-0-8160-5904-1. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  5. ^ Stevenson, Terry and Fanshawe, John (2001). Field Guide to the Birds of East Africa: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi. Elsevier Science, ISBN 978-0856610790
  6. ^ 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
  7. ^ Carwardine, Animal Records (Natural History Museum). Sterling (2008), ISBN 978-1-4027-5623-8
  8. ^ Wood, Gerald (1983). The Guinness Book of Animal Facts and Feats. ISBN 978-0-85112-235-9.
  9. ^ Muckley, A. "Leptoptilos crumeniferus". University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. Animal Diversity Web.
  10. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2018-02-07. Retrieved 2017-06-22.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ Tumenta, P. N. et al. 2013. Lion predation on livestock and native wildlife in Waza National Park, northern Cameroon.– Mammalia 77: 247–251.
  14. ^ 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. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2028.2003.00418.x.
  15. ^ The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English 2008 (Oxford University Press, 2008)
  16. ^ 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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