The Saddle-billed Stork (Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis)
At five feet tall, the Saddle-billed Stork is the tallest stork in the world, and certainly one of the most strikingly beautiful.
A tall, lanky, black-and-white stork with a unique red, yellow, and black bill. The male has dark-brown eyes, and the female has yellow eyes. In flight, the bird’s massive size, and the dark bands in the center of the white wings are diagnostic. It is a wading bird with black and white plumage and a long, laterally compressed bill. The head, back, neck, wings and tail are black, while the rest of the body and the primary flight feathers are a crisp white.
The bill has large red and black stripes, and the black legs have a red garter and red feet. There is a bright-yellow leathery saddle of skin at the top of the bill. Scarce but conspicuous; mostly resident but can be partially nomadic in parts of the range. Found singly or in pairs at rivers and large undisturbed wetlands, foraging for favorites like catfish, but it will also take frogs, birds, and insects.
Saddle-billed Stork are territorial birds that live either on their own or in a pair. It is usually shy and a little recluse. These birds will not migrate, but may move territory in response to a shortage of habitat or food. When in flight, they extend their necks to full length, drooping their heads slightly under the weight of the bill. This gives them a rather unique appearance.
The Saddle-billed Stork occupies vast open spaces along wetlands and bodies of water so that they have easy access to a food source. There are trees scattered throughout their optimal natural habitat.
This bird can be found throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Its range extends from Sudan and Ethiopia to South Africa, including several West African countries. In South Africa, it can be seen in the beautiful Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in the Kalahari of the Northern Cape, the Augrabies Falls National Park, and the Kruger National Park
The Saddle-billed Stork feeds mainly on the fish species that are available in its habitat. It will also dine on the crabs and frogs in the water, as well as other small birds and reptiles (albeit less frequently).
These storks are most frequently found in pairs and are very territorial. They communicate by clattering their bill at the nest occasionally, but are otherwise rather quiet. The Saddle-billed Stork pairs for life, and will reuse their nest.
The male and the female birds work together to construct their nest. They will choose the top boughs of a tree that is situated near to wetlands as the safest spot to hatch and rear their young. This is no mean feat as the nest has to be rather large, since it needs to accommodate the whole bird in a sitting position. The female stork lays between one and five eggs. The chicks are fed by both parents, and reach fledgling age at between 58 and 100 days old. Both members of the pair incubate the eggs for between 32 and 35 days.
The longest lifespan of a Saddle-billed Stork in captivity is just over 30 years.
Saddle-billed Storks are officially Endangered in South Africa, but face fewer threats in other countries. At present, the major danger they face is the damage being done to the wetlands in the name of urbanisation and development. When the wetlands are done away with or polluted, these birds lose their source of food and water, and their habitat.
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