The Marabou Stork (Leptoptilos crumenifer)


Marabou stork

Marabou stork

The Marabou stork is the bird of choice today, a member of the Ciconiidae family.

An absolute beast of a bird, this former #BeakoftheWeek candidate can grow as tall as Kylie Minogue (range 115-152cm) and has one of the biggest wingspans of all birds (2.25-2.87cm). It is not just its appearance that makes it an intimidating creature as its feeding strategies have led to it being christened as the “Undertaker Bird”. It feeds on carrion and can been seen mixing amongst vultures at large predator carcasses.  One interesting technique that they employ to catch their prey, which could definitely be classed as rather cruel, is to wait near grass fires and grab animals as they emerge. A case of out of the fire and straight to the undertaker.

This species has a wide range across central and southern Africa inhabiting grassland, open dry savannah, river banks, near fishing villages and also around rubbish dumps and slaughterhouses.  They are opportunistic feeders, and the unsuitability of their beaks to dismembering carcasses leads to them taking scraps from vultures and other predators or eatting things that are dropped.  Their diet is varied with them feeding on birds, invertebrates, rats and lizards.  They are also adept fishermen, fishing by sight and by submerging their partially open beak and snatching them up.

Marabou scavanging

Marabou scavenging

The number of birds in a colony can be in the thousands, but usually 20-60 pairs, with breeding season varying between the tropics and equatorial zones. In the tropics it begins in the dry season and ends in the rainy season, whereas it is more variable around the equator.  They usually make their nests in trees 10-30m off the ground out of twigs and green leaves.  Typically they lay 2-3 eggs that take ~30 days to hatch and then a further 95-115 days to fledge.

Global population was estimated at between 200,000-500,000 in 2006 and it is thought that these numbers are increasing as it utilises its ability to exploit rubbish dumped by humans. This species is of least concern on the IUCN redlist.  It is thought that its perceivably unattractive appearance could be making it less appealing to hunters and knowledge that they play an important role in clearing up rubbish and carcasses, helping to prevent disease, may stop people from targeting them.

Xeno canto once again has a few calls for you to listen to and OneZoom is a fantastic little site that lets you explore where this species sits in the tree of life.



BirdLife International (2015) Species factsheet: Leptoptilos crumenifer. Downloaded from on 10/07/2015.

Elliott, A., Garcia, E.F.J. & Boesman, P. (2014). Marabou (Leptoptilos crumenifer). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.) (2014). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 10 July 2015).

Images and videos

Marabou stork” by Dr. Lloyd Glenn Ingles is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.

Marabou scavenging” by  Brocken Inaglor is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

5cense. 2007. Marabou Storks Eating, Grooming, Mating & Generaly Brooding. [Online]. [10/07/2015]. Available from:


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