Ararat Ridge Zoo

Marabou Stork

These storks are often called “undertaker birds” because their black and white coloration resembles the uniforms of funeral directors.

Marabou Stork
Marabou Stork

Day of Creation: five
Biblical Kind: stork (includes all stork species)
Status: least concern
Height: 4–5 feet
Weight: up to 20 pounds
Habitat: any aquatic or open arid habitat in sub-Saharan Africa, including urban areas
Lifespan: 25 (in the wild)–40+ (under human care) years
Diet: carrion, but will opportunistically hunt any live prey they can swallow
Family Life: live in large musters or phalanxes of 30–150 birds
Reproduction: 2–3 chicks hatch after 30-day incubations

Fun Facts

  • Storks are large carnivorous birds characterized by long bills sensitive enough to blindly distinguish between prey and non-prey items. Their bills can snap shut in 25 milliseconds, one of the fastest reactions of any vertebrate. The knife-like bills of marabou (pronounced MARE-ah-boo) storks can reach over a foot long.
  • The black legs of marabou storks appear white because they defecate on them to cool off, a habit called urohidrosis (yur-oh-HY-droh-sis).
  • Because of their monogamy, faithfulness to nesting sites, and size, storks feature prominently in mythology. In ancient Egypt, they represented the soul, and Muslims revered them because they migrated to Mecca. In ancient Greece and Rome, they represented parental devotion. European folklore claimed storks delivered babies to their parents. The name “marabou” comes from the Arabic term for a holy man, murabit, because this species is considered holy.
  • Storks communicate primarily through bill-clattering because they have reduced syrinxes (vocal organs). Marabou storks are designed with pink pouches on their throats called gular (GOO-lar) sacs that attach to their left nostrils and allow them to make grunts and croaks.
  • Marabou storks play a very important environmental role by cleaning up carrion and reducing disease. They will follow vultures to carcasses and wait for them to tear the bodies up with their hooked beaks before diving in themselves. Like many vultures, they have bare heads to stay cleaner while scavenging. They have also been observed waiting at the edge of grass fires to ambush creatures escaping the flames.