Birding and Game viewing is, largely, a matter of being in the right place at the right time: arrive a little too early or a little too late and wonderful sittings missed! Coming around a corner once in the Kruger National Park on a gravel road there was a tree growing in the middle of the road which began to move towards us Swerving to the right to avoid the tree we were aware of a reptiles head flashing past at window height before it moved off into the bush. It all happened so quickly that there was no time to see if the inside of its mouth was black or not, but I am convinced it was a Black Mamba and a pretty large one at that. This remains a memorable siting.

On another occasion, in the Moremi National Park in Botswana during a drought year some Bat-eared fox were playing on the edge of a very dry muddy pan, when suddenly twenty or so Marabou Storks swooped in and began snapping up with their enormous beaks and swallowing as quickly as they could the unfortunate barble striving to make a living from the mud. It was all over in about ten minutes before the engorged Marabou departed as quickly as they had arrived: a few minutes earlier or later and we would have missed this memorable siting. The gular sacs under their chins were bright red and fully extended with [as we thought] fish. We later learnt that these gular sacs have nothing to do with storing food, but are extended during courtship or when the birds are excited or threatened.

Marabou must rate high on the list of ugly mammals because of their great size, bare, scaly head and neck, its huge meat cleaver bill and pink gular sacs below the throat. It is sometimes referred to as ‘The Undertaker Bird due to its shape from behind: cloak-like dark wings and back, skinny white soiled legs and sometimes a large white mass of ‘hair’. Standing up to 1.5 m tall and weighing about 9 kg the Marabou has the distinction of being one of the largest flying birds in the world with a wingspan of nearly 3 m. This large wingspan enables him to soar to great heights from where he can espy his main source of food, carrion. Unlike other storks, the marabou flies with his neck tucked back like a heron.

Being a scavenger, he performs a very useful purpose in ‘cleaning up’ dead carcasses and is often seen together with vultures. They will eat just about any animal, dead or alive, like small birds, locusts, armyworm caterpillars frogs, crocodile eggs, and hatchlings. They are often seen at rubbish dumps fishing camps and abattoirs in urban areas

Marabou do not have voice boxes and communicate by clapping together their enormous beaks, and during courtship, they not only extend their gular sac but use them to make various strange sounds,

These storks occur throughout tropical Africa south of the Sahara They are common in KNP and may be seen in large groups sometimes on the ground and sometimes perched in trees.

Rather an interesting bird, I think, but will not be seen in our Clarens area.

Author: Craig Walters

Editor and explorer of all the News that's fit to print!