Finding the legendary Shoebill

On our latest Nature Travel Birding Safari we spent a morning in the Mabamba Swamp in Uganda searching for one of Africa’s sought after bird species; the Shoebill. The sheer surprise we got when this prehistoric-looking bird flew over us is an experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Our clients had wanted to see this bird for many years and to some the bird is almost something of a myth, so imagine the excitement when one of these giants fly over your boat in the middle of the Mabamba Swamp. Let’s just say we all had the sighting of our lives as the bird landed a mere 20m from us and started preening and eventually fishing for Lungfish. The sheer joy of seeing the bird and the high fives going around the boat after the sighting makes my job as a bird guide for Nature Travel Birding so rewarding.

Shoebill Uganda.jpgWith its massive shoe-like bill, and 1,2m height this bird looks like something from the age of the dinosaurs. In fact the Shoebill is a bird belonging to the group known as the Pelecaniformes and is more closely related to a Pelican than a Stork. These birds are found in Tropical East Africa in large swamps from Sudan to Zambia. They are equipped with a large bill which helps them catch their favourite prey : West African Lungfish.

Shoebills are masters of patience. They will stand in water, large patches of grass, and other hiding places for hours on end. They know that if they wait long enough for the right moment, they will find their next meal. At the right moment, the Shoebill will leap from cover and attack the prey. They lunge forward with their sharp bill and pick up the creature, devouring it whole.

Shoebill 07.jpgWith a life span of 35 years, these birds have been classified as endangered with less than 10,000 birds left. The bird is threatened by hunters, the destruction of their environments by humans, and cultural taboos that lead to them being captured by tribes. Many cultures believe that the birds are taboo and bring about bad luck.

Africa’s legendary bird, the Shoebill, awaits you in Uganda on one of our tours. Our next Uganda tour runs in August 2019, so come and join us in finding this amazing avian gem and many other great birds in the Pearl of Africa – Uganda. We also trek both of the African Great Apes that being the Chimpanzees and Gorillas.

Written by: Marc Cronje (Nature Travel Guide)

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