Imagine a bird…. A rather large bird…. That at once is both majestic and something that might populate a horror movie.
Look up just about any online list of the world’s ugliest birds and you will find the Marabou Stork listed. Deservedly so. This bird can be described as a very large, rather ill-tempered cross betwixt a stork, a vulture, and a burn victim.
The marabou stands about four feet tall and can have up to a three meter wingspan, though about two meters may be more typical. Large enough to intimidate nearly any other creature they may encounter, including people.
The defining feature of this bird is its head. Unlike other storks the head and neck are nearly completely bald, just a straggle of down around the head that looks more like burned away feathers than proper plumage. The red and black blotchy skin adds to the impression that the bird has had an encounter with a flame thrower.
This head also mounts a 30 centimeter long, heavy beak. A beak completely serviceable in killing small prey, tearing apart carcasses, or digging in a trash pit.
This head and beak of nightmares are connected to an otherwise majestic body and wings. Capable of graceful flight and effortless soaring over the African landscape.
I first encountered this bird in Queen Elizabeth National Park where they hunt the savanna, can be found along the Kazinga Channel, and haunt the local fishing villages.
It was in Entebbe that another habitat for the marabou can be noted…. These are also urban birds like pigeons or house sparrows. Large groups can be seen soaring over the city, or skimming the rooftops looking for food, most likely trash.
When I consider the local mynahs that scavenge our neighborhood, or the pigeons that can be found in most metropolitan areas, I realize it could be worse…. The local flying scavengers could be marabou.