At the Zoo
The San Francisco Zoo participates in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' coordinated Population Management Plan for marabou storks.
You can find our marabou storks roaming with other African grassland animals in the African Savanna exhibit.
- The fluffy white tail feathers are known as “marabou” and were once used as fashion accessories.
- They are attracted to wildfires, seeking out prey trying to escape.
- Like some vultures, marabou storks defecate on their feet to help regulate temperature.
- Marabou are often found near large savanna hoofstock because these animals stir up insects which the birds will feed on.
Marabou are the largest of all stork species, weighing up to 11 pounds with a wingspan of nearly 9 feet. Males and females look similar but males tend to be larger. They have long, lanky legs and stand almost 5 feet tall. Their feet, unlike other birds, have hallowed toe bones in order to assist this great bird in flight. The bill is heavy, straight and sharp-pointed; it cannot tear, so food is swallowed whole or in pieces left by other animals.
The wings and back are dark grayish-black and underparts are white. Their necks and heads are dull pink, speckled with black and featherless; a common adaptation for scavengers. There is a featherless sac, normally tucked beneath surrounding feathers that hangs a foot or more from the throat. When inflated, it is thought to aid in temperature regulation but also plays a part in courtship displays. Juvenile birds are duller in color and have wooly feathers on their head.
Lifespan is about 25 years in the wild, and up to 41 years in captivity.
They are found throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa in savannas, marshlands, lakes, rivers and human settlements.
Marabou primarily feed on carrion, but also hunt for insects, fish, frogs, small mammals, snakes, lizards, and birds- including flamingos. At the zoo, they eat meat-based ratite and feline diet, mice and small rats.
Marabou storks are social birds and generally mate for life. Outside of breeding season they scavenge in groups and roost together in flocks of up to 1,000 birds. They are often seen soaring high searching for vultures, which lead them to a food source. They are not particularly migratory but will move towards the equator during breeding season and toward water sources in order to find food.
This species lacks a vocal organ, and is thus mute. They communicate by clattering their bill as well as forcing air through their throat sac to produce grunts and croaks.
Breeding usually takes place during the dry season, where anywhere from 20 to several thousand pairs come together. During this time males establish and defend a territory; shortly after, females arrive to engage in breeding rituals. Displays consists of a variety of elaborate postures and stylized dancing or walking in place, during which the bill is often rattled or clattered and the throat pouch is inflated.
Nests are a platform made of sticks, with the male gathering materials and the female arranging them. The pair will incubate their 2-3 white eggs for about a month. Both parents take part in feeding and carrying food to the nest, which they then regurgitate to the young. Chicks fledge around 3-4 months and gain their adult plumage around 4 years of age.
Status In The Wild
Marabou storks are listed as least concern by the IUCN. Hunting due to their use in traditional medicine has caused the marabou population to decrease in parts of their range. However, the stork’s adaptable nature and ability to scavenge for food have allowed their populations to grow overall.