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Bird of the Week: Shoebill

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This week’s Bird of the Week is the shoebill, and if I could use any word to describe this bird, it would probably be “asldfjasl;djfalsdjfa;sldjkfda;sldfk.”

That is because, well, look at the bird.

Credit: Koji Ishii
Credit: Ron Knight

Uh-huh. Shoebill by name, shoebill very, very much by nature. The first thing I thought was that it looked like a giant wooden Dutch clog had attached itself to this bird’s face. It turns out that this is what a lot of other people think too. Hmm, maybe that’s why it got the name??? (It’s also called the whalehead, which is pretty appropriate.)

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Looking at the shoebill sends me spiraling. Somewhere in the world—well, the swamps of central and eastern Africa, to be precise—there is a creature, walking around, alive, and it looks like this. It is a real and existing thing in the universe. It breathes the same air as you or I. Natural selection never fails to blow the mind. Let’s see another two pictures.

Credit: Maciej
Credit: VIlle.fi

But the shoebill is not just a giant shoe on a face. There’s a whole bird attached to that shoe. And, from what people keep saying, that bird is extremely hardcore.

From Audobon:

Though I don’t think I’d go anywhere near one, humans don’t have to worry. Shoebills, which live in the swamps of eastern tropical Africa, are after smaller prey. But only slightly smaller. They eat big fish like lungfish, eels, and catfish, and also crazy stuff like Nile monitor lizards, snakes, and baby crocodiles. This bird eats crocodiles! And they hunt like total bosses of the swamp. The Shoebill will stand there, motionless as a statue, and wait for some poor lungfish or baby crocodile to swim by. Then the bird will pounce forward, all five feet of it, with its massive bill wide open, engulfing its target along with water, mud, vegetation, and probably any other hapless fish minding their own business. Clamping down on its prey, the bird will start to swing its massive head back and forth, tipping out whatever stuff it doesn’t want to eat. When there’s nothing but lungfish or crocodile left, the Shoebill will give it a quick decapitation with the sharp edges of the bill (because of course it does) and swallow away.

Jesus christ! The bird…eats…crocodiles…………….and is constantly pouncing and decapitating things with its terrifyingly sharp bill. Thank god the shoebill does not want to eat me, because I would be a goner. Here’s a little video (with some sadly cheesy narration) showing the shoebill going after the aforementioned lungfish, which, in this clip, has some fight in it.

Apart from when it is brutally snuffing out another life, the shoebill is known for standing in one place for long stretches of time. Here is a video (with some sadly cheesy music) showing that routine, along with some very eye-opening head and neck movements.

Sometimes, though, it makes a crazy clattering sound with its bill. Here is what that sounds like.

The shoebill has been fascinating people for a long time. According to Audobon, “They appear in the artwork of the ancient Egyptians. Arabs reportedly called the bird Abu-Markhub, or ‘father of a slipper.'”

It’s official: slippers have dads, and the dads are actually birds. I love that. All hail the shoebill.