The saddle billed stork
The Saddle billed stork also known as Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis is notably large wading bird in the Ciconiidae stork family and is resident in the Sub Sahara of Africa including Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, South Africa, Uganda where they are explored on birding safaris in Uganda, Senegal, Gambia, Chad and Côte d’Ivoire.
The Saddle billed stork is associated with the common Asian black-necked stork which is member of the Ephippiorhynchus genus. The saddle billed stork is a huge bird that features a great height of up to 150 cm and the body length of 142 cm and a wing span of 2.4–2.7 m. The Male saddle billed stork is noted to be heavier than the female and ranges from 5.1–7.52 kg with an average weight of 6.38 kg whereas the female saddle billed stork features a weight of 5 – 6.84kg with an average weight of 5.95kg.
The Saddle billed stork is the tallest of all the storks but not the heaviest. It legs are very long with a tarsus of up to 36.5cm while its long bill ranges from 27.3cm – 36cm. The two sexes of the Saddle billed stork can be differentiated by the golden yellow irises from the females and the golden brown irises and yellow wattles for males as can be encountered on Uganda safaris
The Saddle billed stork is beautifully plumaged. It features black neck, head, back, tail and wings while the rest of the body is white along with primary flight feathers. The Juveniles feature brown grey in their plumage. The enormous bill is red featuring a black band along with a yellow frontal shield or the saddle. The feet and legs of this bird are black featuring pink hooks. The Chest features a bare red skin patch and this color darkens in the season for breeding.
Regarding the behavior, the Saddle billed Stork is noted to be silent apart from bill cluttering at the nest. They fly with outstretched necks just like other storks not like the heron that is retracted. During the flight, the bill keeps dropping below the belly height which gives the bird a unique appearance to those who view it for the first time including the travelers on safari in Uganda. But for the expert birders, this enables them to easily distinguish it.
Regarding breeding, the saddle-billed stork tends to breed in forest covered wetlands and also flood lands in the tropical lowland. It builds a large, deep nest with sticks where it lays 1 or 2 eggs that weigh about 146 g per egg. The Saddle billed stork do not create breeding colonies and it is usually encountered in lone or pairs. The period for incubation is 30 – 35 days along with other 70 – 100 days that the chicks take before fledging
Regarding feeding, the saddle billed stork feeds greatly on fish, crabs and frogs and can also feed on reptiles and small birds. They make deliberate and strategic moves during hunting like the larger herons.
Regarding conservation, the Saddle billed stork are spread widely in the tropical Africa and are listed under the International Union for Conservation of Nature red list as Least Concern because their populations are relatively stable.