Friday, March 07, 2008

Blue Suede Shoes

I know I wrote about a bird recently, but as I said before, finding (non-vulture) ugly birds is difficult, so when ARKive has an ugly bird on their front page, I jump at the chance. It’s a bird I’ve known about for a while, but I didn’t realize it was endangered. Wikipedia states that Animal Planet’s “Beastly Countdown” lists this animal as “the #1 ugliest creature on Earth.” I don’t think so; I could probably come up with another ten uglier from earlier posts. But, I suppose, that’s for you to decide.1

Image from Wikipedia
Image from Wikipedia
The Shoebill (Balaeniceps rex) is a large stork (maybe), whose beak quite closely resembles footwear associated with 19th century Dutch (compare). They inhabit central African wetlands, where they feed on lungfish, catfish, frogs, lizards, and the like. ARKive puts their hunting strategy quite succinctly: “Prey is grasped from the water in the bird's sharp, hooked beak, which grips, crushes and pierces in one instant.”

When I said they were maybe a large stork, that was because scientists are still working on where to taxonomically put these huge wading birds. They could be with the storks, or the herons, or the pelicans, or the hammerkops2. The latest studies put it closest to either the herons or the pelicans.

Shoebills are solitary birds, aggressively defending their territory, and the only come together to mate. They build a nest of papyrus and brutally attack any potential predators. Baby shoebills (exceedingly cute) hatch after a month, can walk after two, and can hunt after three. It takes three years for the young to reach sexual maturity, and they can live up to 36 years.

As the population of Africa increases, more land is required for agriculture, which takes away the swamps necessary for this bird’s livelihood. Like any decent sized bird, it has a good amount of meat on it, and is subsequently hunted for food. CITES is attempting to limit trade, and may make it illegal for any trade of Shoebill parts. Conservation efforts are iffy, as they are found in some reserves, but Africa is notorious for its political instability. Consistent wildlife management is a lot to ask for. There are suggestions that toting these as a great African animal, like the Lion or the Wildebeest, will be the biggest aid to its conservation. The easiest way to do that is to tell people about it.
I feel my work here is done.

1Every once in a while, people take offence to me calling these animals ugly. I know that this is subjective, but there are animals that people will simply not find cute. The point is to show that those animals are just as important as the cute ones.
2I had never heard of these before. They look halfway between a
roadrunner and a ball-peen.


TrueFliesBlogger said...

Really enjoyed this post. Had not heard of these birds before (or the hammerkop). Very interesting!

Anonymous said...

Not sure what this says about me that I keep seeing people I know in these animals...but, oddly, this guy looks a lot like my manager!

Term Papers said...

I can see that you are putting a lot of time and effort into your blog and detailed articles!

Trish said...

"the #1 ugliest creature on Earth."


Anonymous said...

That bird has an uncanny similarity to the 'loftwings' from the new Zelda: Skyward Sword game.