Fr: Marabout d’Afrique
Ang: Marabou Stork - Marabou
All: Marabu
Esp: Marabú Africano
Ita: Marabù africano
Nd: Afrikaanse Maraboe
Sd: maraboustork


Callie de Wet

Jean Michel Fenerole
Photos d’Oiseaux du monde

Steve Garvie
RAINBIRDER Photo galleries & Flickr Rainbirder

Text by Nicole Bouglouan


HANDBOOK OF THE BIRDS OF THE WORLD vol 1 by Josep del Hoyo-Andrew Elliot-Jordi Sargatal - Lynx Edicions - ISBN: 8487334105

BIRDS OF AFRICA SOUTH OF THE SAHARA by Ian Sinclair and Peter Ryan - Princeton University Press Princeton and Oxford - ISBN: 0691118159

BIRDS OF THE GAMBIA AND SENEGAL by Clive Barlow and Tim Wacher – Helm Field guides – ISBN: 0713675497

ROBERTS BIRDS OF SOUTH AFRICA by G. R. Mc Lachlan and R. Liversidge – The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund – ISBN: 0620031182

L’ENCYCLOPEDIE MONDIALE DES OISEAUX - Dr Christopher M. Perrins -  BORDAS - ISBN: 2040185607

Avibase (Denis Lepage)

BirdLife International

HBW Alive

ARKive (Christopher Parsons)

Animal Diversity Web (University of Michigan Museum of Zoology)


Biodiversity Explorer – The Web of Life in Southern Africa 

Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia

Birds of Southern Africa (Tony Roocroft)

Kruger National Park - South African Safari

Vulture Territory – Marabou Stork

Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre


Home page

Page Family Ciconidae

Summary Cards


Marabou Stork
Leptoptilos crumenifer

Ciconiiformes Order – Ciconiidae Family

The Marabou Stork is often considered one of the ugliest animals on the planet. Of course, some morphological features such as the bald pink or reddish head with scattered shaggy feathers, the huge, massive, tapered beak and its ungainly stature, make this bird repulsive at first sight. But actually, this gregarious bird is an essential scavenger that cleans the nature of all its waste and carrion, often associated with vultures. Removing carcasses and rotting material often helps avoiding the spreading of diseases.

This large, powerful stork is included in the subfamily Leptoptilini within the family Ciconiidae. It is colonial-nester and forms colonies established in large trees. It breeds in Sub-Saharan Africa where numerous birds are sedentary.
The species is not globally threatened and the population is suspected to be increasing, due to large availability of waste and carrion as food resources.

Length: 115-152 cm
Wingspan: 225-285 cm
Weight: 4-9 kg

The Marabou Stork adult has dark slate grey to blackish upperparts, including wings and tail.
The underparts are white and contrast with the black underwing.

Head and neck are bare and pinkish to reddish, with sparse tufts of woolly down and hair. The heavily pigmented skin of the head is a natural adaptation against blistering. These blisters can be infected when the bird thrusts the head inside carcasses.
We can see a conspicuous pink/red throat pouch or air-sac, hanging down the foreneck. A second pouch, much smaller and less conspicuous, is hidden at the base of the hindneck, among the white feathers of a partial ruff. These ornaments are used in courtship and defence displays.  

The massive, tapered beak is greyish-ivory. The eyes are dark brown. Legs and feet are dark grey but they often appear white, covered in urine and excreta in order to help in regulating the body temperature.

Male and female have similar appearance, but the male is larger overall.
In breeding plumage, the adults have white-edged wing-coverts. Both air-sacs are larger and mostly reddish or red during the breeding season. The large throat pouch acts as a resonator and allows the bird to produce guttural sounds.

The immature is duller overall with smaller bill and more feathering on head and neck.

The Marabou Stork is found in tropical Africa from Senegal E to Eritrea, Ethiopia and W Somalia, and S to Namibia and N and E South Africa.

The Marabou Stork frequents aquatic and open, semi-arid areas. It occurs in savanna, grassland and wetlands. It may often associate with humans and can be seen near fishing villages and around garbage dumps.

The Marabou Stork is usually silent. However, during the breeding season, bill-clapping is usually performed while displaying or if the bird is threatened. It also produces low, hoarse croaking, and it is reported to moo, whine, whistle and hiccup during both courtship and threat displays.  

The Marabou Stork feeds primarily on carrion and scraps, a very important behaviour to the ecosystem it inhabits.
It also feeds on termites, locusts, frogs, lizards, rats, mice, snakes, small birds and mammals, dead elephants and human refuse. It is known for killing the chicks of the Lesser Flamingo, because the adults are not able to protect their nest and young against the huge bill of the Marabou Stork.

It obtains much of its food from dead animals and waste products. Around carcasses, it is often associated with vultures, hyenas and other mammals, and in spite of its huge bill, it rarely dominates and often stands by the numerous vultures to nip in from time to time to snatch scraps dropped by others. The huge bill is not adapted for cutting up meat, and it is used simply for pulling while thrusting the head deep inside the carcass. It is very aggressive when feeding, and is able to swallow lumps of meat of up to 700 gr/1 kg.
They may gather at grass fires to catch fleeing animals, and also form large flocks near the roosts.

The Marabou Stork usually breeds during the dry season, and forms colonies in tall trees, or locally on cliffs (Zambia). Mixed-species colonies are not uncommon and often include other Ciconiidae, Ardeidae, cormorants and ibises.
Several displays are observed, such as the most typical, the “Up-down” display, during which the head is thrown back with a grunt, and then, lowered again before bill-clattering. This display is also used in defence behaviour. It is the commonest display in the family Ciconidae. The red throat sac is an indicator of dominance in social interaction, depending on the size. The second sac becomes red and bulges through the white ruff.
They are monogamous with long-term pair-bond.

The Marabou Stork spends much of its time standing motionless, or resting in hunched posture with the tarsi flat to the ground, typical of numerous storks.

This species is largely sedentary with some populations locally nomadic. The northernmost and the southernmost populations move towards equator after breeding. The non-breeding birds may move S into wetter areas during the dry season. Vagrants have been reported in Morocco, Spain and Israel.

The Marabou Stork flies with the long legs trailing behind, whereas the neck is retracted (unlike other storks). In order to help in flight, this species has hollow leg and toe bones. In the same way, while the neck is retracted, the weight of the beak is taken on the shoulders.
It flies very well and uses thermals to rise into the air. It soars easily with its large wings and is very elegant in flight.

The Marabou Stork breeds during the dry season, when water levels are low, making easier to take fish and amphibians to feed the young. But this period varies according to the range. The colonies may include 20-60 pairs, but sometimes up to several thousands.

The Marabou Stork often nests in tall trees between 10 and 30 metres above the ground. However, it may nest on cliffs (Zambia) and sometimes on buildings in towns and villages.
The nest is built by both adults with sticks. It is lined with twigs and green leaves. The egg laying occurs between May and January, with peak in June/September.  

The female lays 2-3 eggs and both adults incubate during about one month. At hatching, the chicks have pale grey down first, and then, white down. The bill is yellowish and they have a small throat pouch. They are fed by their parents by regurgitation, and they fledge between 95 and 115 days after hatching. They remain with the adults for up to 4 months after fledging. They reach the sexual maturity at 4-5 years old.  

The Marabou Stork is common and even abundant throughout the range, and the population appears to be increasing because the birds are able to exploit the increasing amount of rubbish from humans.
Due to its ugly appearance and behaviour, the Marabou Stork is less attractive for hunters. However, this species is hunted and traded at medicine markets in Nigeria.
It is sometimes protected because its scavenging habits help to control disease breaking out and then, spreading.
The global population was estimated to number 200,000/500,000 individuals in 2006.
The Marabou Stork is currently evaluated as Least Concern, although it is listed as Near Threatened in South Africa, due to small population.

With a White-breasted Cormorant