It’s always nice to come across storks in nature and one that really excites us, not only for its size, but also its beauty, is the Saddle-billed stork. It is the largest of the storks, standing about 150cm tall, and looks magnificent when it takes to the air, with a wingspan of approx. 2.5 meters. These storks are listed as endangered in South Africa, which makes a sighting of them rather special.
Saddle-billed storks are easily identifiable by the red and black bands across their bills and the yellow saddle, made of leathery skin, straddling the top of their bills. Males and females look almost identical in their black and white plumage, but it is actually easy to tell the sexes apart as the female has bright yellow eyes as opposed to the male’s which are a dark colour.
Males also have yellow wattles that hang just below the head at the base of the bill and they are slightly larger and heavier than the females. The female has an exposed red patch on her chest that darkens during the breeding season.
Looking at our pictures it would appear that they are all of females – unless this rather motley-looking juvenile is a little boy!
Their habitat is mainly in wetlands and along rivers and lakes as their diet consists mostly of fish, frogs, crabs and the occasional bird or small reptile. They are territorial and are usually found singly or in pairs. Mating is for life and they never breed in colonies. Together they build a stick nest at the top of a tree close to water. The nest is deep enough to conceal the bird sitting on the two to three eggs that are laid. Incubation takes about six to seven weeks and chicks are ready to fledge two to three months later.
As I said, it’s a treat seeing these birds and well worth spending some time watching them gracefully going about their business along the water’s edge.