top of page
  • Writer's pictureMartha Iserman

The Shoebill

Balaeniceps rex

AKA: The Shoebill Stork, The Whalehead, The Whale-headed Stork

The biggest beak this side of Sesame Street, it's the Shoebill.

It's ShoeWILLIAM to you

Often referred to as the Shoebill stork, it is actually not a stork at all, but a member of the pelican family. Like many unique animals in the DOPE NOPE world, it's the only species in the family Balaenicipitdae within the its order (Pelicaniformes, obviously). Its scientific name comes from the root words balaena "whale" and caput "head" which is the Latin version of a schoolyard taunt.

This angry muppet of a bird is up to 5 feet tall with a wingspan of 7 and a half to 8 and a half feet across. Up to 15lbs of murder turkey, most of its weight is in the upper body as it's perched on long thin legs, hence the reference to storks. Despite this size, it can actually fly although long flights are rare. They usually go about 100 to 500 meters per trip and like to stick to their foraging distance.

don't we all

Its most prominent feature is its huge bill. Roughly the size of a football, its bulbous with a dramatic keel and sharp hook on the end. This mouth is for murdering though, as the edges of its bill are sharp and can cut prey in two. When it's hunting it will hold this weapon vertically downward against its chest to facilitate its vision, which gives it its epic Hannibal Lector glare.

So what is it eating? The Shoebill lives in the swamps and tropical marshes of central and eastern Africa, searching for prey in shallow water. It's carnivorous and eats primarily fish, a favorite being lungfish, but is also known to eat snakes, frogs, lizards, small crocodiles, and even rats. It's been such a fixture in the African river scene it was well known to the Ancient Egyptians for hanging out in papyrus marshes.

Old School

They're pretty solitary birds and can be seen slowly wading through shallow waters looking for lungfish to snap in half. Their signature hunting style is to stand statue-like for long periods of time and then launch a quick violent strike. This method is pretty successful, with around 60% of strikes yielding dinner.

But there is a softer side to this Big Bird. A Shoebill named Sushi that lives at the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre in Entebbe is known to bow to visitors and allow people to pet him. He's still kind of a dick though since if you don't bow back he'll move away and won't engage.

Bow Down B*tches

Turns out, Shoebills bow to each other to initiate mating, which makes Sushi either an open-minded swinger, or a pervert bird with boundary issues.

If all of the bowing goes well, the new parents will lay two eggs and take turns incubating them and using their beaks to cool them with water (...awwwwww).

But then they will only allow one chick to survive, providing all attention and nutrition to the strongest and using the second only as a type of insurance (...ohhhhhh).

So not parents of the year.

Oh, and Fun Fact-they poop on their legs to keep themselves cool in the African heat!

So what do you think? Is it DOPE? Or a NOPE?

Do you agree on the outcome of the Duck Death Match? Comment with your thoughts!!!


Urohidrosis- the habit in some birds of defecating onto the scaly portions of the legs as a cooling mechanism.

Piscivorous- (of an animal) feeding on fish.

  • Shoebill. (2020, July 4). In Wikipedia.

  • Obwalatum, J. M. (2021, March 30). The Shoebill Stork - All you need to Know about Africa's whale head bird. Realm Africa SafarisTM.


  • Ishak, N. (2021, November 11). Meet The Shoebill, The Terrifying Bird Of Prey With A 7-Inch Beak. All That’s Interesting.

  • Shoebill, facts and photos. (n.d.). Animals.



bottom of page