African openbill

An unrushed flyboy from Africa

Dick Daniels

A specialized stork native to sub-Saharan Africa. Its most distinguishing feature is its unique bill, which, much like its Asian counterpart, is designed with a gap between the mandibles. This adaptation is particularly suited for its preferred diet, primarily consisting of aquatic snails and bivalves.

With its dark, glossy plumage that can appear almost black in certain lights, the African Openbill is a medium-sized stork that is both a resident and intra-African migrant, moving in response to changing water levels and food availability. During flight, its heavy, rounded wings showcase white underwing coverts, making for a striking image against the African sky.

The African Openbill frequents a variety of wetland habitats, from inland freshwater lakes, swamps, and marshes to coastal lagoons, mudflats, and mangroves. These habitats provide the mollusks that make up the bulk of their diet, which the openbill is uniquely adapted to feed on. The gap in the bill allows it to grasp and extract snails from their shells with a levering action, a remarkable feat of natural engineering.

Social by nature, these birds often form large colonies for roosting and breeding. They are known to migrate in flocks, which can be quite a spectacle to observe. Breeding is closely linked to the availability of food, which tends to increase during the rainy season when water bodies are replenished and snails are more active and abundant.

African Openbills build their nests in trees, often over water, which provides protection from many ground predators. These nests are constructed from sticks and reeds, and the colonies can become quite extensive, with multiple generations returning to the same site. Both parents share responsibilities for incubating the eggs and raising the young.

Distribution

Country
Population est.
Status
Year
Comments
Angola
2018
Benin
2018
Botswana
2018
Burkina Faso
2018
Burundi
2018
Cameroon
2018
Central Af. Rep.
2018
Chad
2018
Congo-Brazzaville
2018
Côte D’ivoire
2018
DR Congo (Kinshasa)
2018
Equatorial Guinea
2018
Vagrant
Eritrea
2018
Eswatini
2018
Ethiopia
2018
Gabon
2018
Ghana
2018
Kenya
2018
Liberia
2018
Madagascar
2018
Malawi
2018
Mali
2018
Mauritania
2018
Vagrant
Mozambique
2018
Namibia
2018
Niger
2018
Nigeria
2018
Rwanda
2018
Senegal
2018
Sierra Leone
2018
Somalia
2018
South Africa
2018
South Sudan
2018
Breeding
Sudan
2018
Tanzania
2018
Breeding
Togo
2018
Uganda
2018
Zambia
2018
Breeding
Zimbabwe
2018

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No