Bird of the week – Week 35 : Abdim’s stork

Let’s be honest. The Abdim’s stork is not a beautiful bird. Not as immediately repulsive as the Marabou stork, perhaps, but still not a beautiful bird. It is quite graceful in flight, but on the ground it looks quite clumsy and its red eye patch set into blue cheeks gives the impression that its eyes are terribly bloodshot. But perhaps I’m just being unkind. In some African countries it is considered to bring good luck, especially in the form of rain, which is not surprising really, as its migratory pattern follows the rains. Rather usefully (from the stork’s point of view), superstition requires that the bird is left undisturbed.
The Abdim’s stork is a visitor to Southern Africa, most arriving from its breeding grounds in East and West Africa during November and departing again in April. They are gregarious birds, usually found in large flocks, especially where there are plenty of insects. They are quite large birds, although they are the smallest of the storks, about 75 cm in length, and are mainly black, with a purple sheen to their feathers. The belly and rump are white and the bare skin on their cheeks is blue, although this is somewhat duller when they are not breeding. There is a red patch in front of the eyes. The bill and legs are olive green and their toes and knees are red. Sexes are similar, although the males are a little larger than the females.
During the  months that they spend in Southern Africa, the Abdim’s storks remain in the more Northerly parts of the region, restricting themselves to the highveld grasslands and parts of the Kalahari. During this time they are largely silent although there is some bill clattering that takes place.
Abdim’s storks feed mainly on insects, lizards, frogs, and army worms. They seem to be especially fond of locusts, grasshoppers and crickets and for this reason in some areas they are known as “grasshopper birds”. Like several other stork species, Abdim’s Storks defecate on their legs to assist with cooling in the hot weather.
The scientific name for the Absdim’s stork is Ciconia abdimii; Ciconia from the Latin for a stork and abdimii being derived from the name of the governor of Wadi Halfa in the Sudan, Bey El-Arnaut Abdim(1780-1827).

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