Episode 49 – Shoebill: The Prehysterical Pescatarian

“And today we’re talking about a weird-looking dinosauresque bird that looks like it may have been drawn by a fourth grader.”

Every so often, a creature comes along that defies the conventions of adaptation and reform. Such creatures cling to the tried and true and, subsequently, resemble relics of a bygone age. One prehysterical looking bird resembles something more akin to it’s dinosaur ancestors than it’s crane cousins. Some call it stagnation, but this frightening feathered behemoth calls it sticking to proven methods. But nature is all about function over form and when you find a look that works, you stick to it in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Measure Up

Height – 1 meter (3.2 feet) – How many original barbie dolls (11.5 inches) go into the height of a Shoebill? Hint: As of 2016, Barbie received her first major makeover since 1959. Barbie dolls now come a variety of shapes, sizes, skin tones, and hair colors and now reflect more true to life body types. Answer: 3.3 Barbies.


Wingspan – as much as 260 cm (8.5 feet) – How many buffalo chicken wings (the Chicago Tribune estimates the average chicken wing is 3.5 inches long) go into the wingspan of a Shoebill? Hint: The Chicago Tribune estimated the length of a wing in an article revealing that 1.25 million chicken wings were eaten on superbowl sunday in 2016. In true #MeasureUp fashion, they also informed readers that that many wings would stretch from “CenturyLink Field in Seattle to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., almost 28 times.” Answer: 29 wings

Major Fact

Shoebills are known for their ridiculous beak, but it’s oddly sized and shaped for specific reasons.

  • Bills are about as wide as their large heads and can reach up to nine inches long.
  • The bills are powerful, sharp, and end in a sharp curved beak similar to a bird of prey.
  • These large weapons are used for just about everything this birds needs from hunting to defense.
  • However, primarily used for hunting large prey.
    • Shoebills prey on lungfish primarily, but they’ll eat just about anything they can get their bills around. Even turtles and young crocodiles.
    • They stand still for hours in the swamp waiting for the perfect moment to strike.
    • When something shows up, they prefer to dispatch it quickly, with two main methods of killing.
      • They will try to snap the heads off of prey, using the edges of their bills like a guillotine.
        • They will pick up an animal into their mouths and then open it back up slightly.
        • As the creature pokes its head out to clamber to safety, the shoebill chomps down like they forgot to paint the roses red.
      • If they can’t do that, they’ll impale prey with their hooked beak.
  • They also use their bills to communicate.
    • Since they are solitary animals, and ambush predators, they don’t usually make any sounds at all.
    • When they encounter a potential mate or a threat, they will make a sound as a greeting or threat.
    • But it’s not a squawk or chirp. They clatter their bill together to make a hollow clapping sound.
    • It sounds like a jackhammer or machine gun.
  • They also use their beaks on each other.
    • Despite mating for life, they are solitary birds. They nest far away from other shoebills. And their incredibly territorial.
    • They are also brutal parents.
    • They only raise the strongest of their hatchlings. So shoebill chicks adopt a highlander mentality.
    • They fight to the death before they reach maturity.


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