Saddle-billed stork

The colorful stork of Africa

Diego Delso

The Saddle-billed stork stands out as one of the most visually striking and tallest storks, with adults reaching heights of up to 150 cm (59 inches). Its name derives from the saddle-shaped shield on its bill, which makes it easily identifiable, along with the bright red, black, and yellow coloration of the bill. The contrasting black and white plumage adds to its striking appearance, and the long legs and neck emphasize its stature among stork species.

These storks are widely distributed across sub-Saharan Africa, where they frequent a variety of wetland habitats. From the dense swamps and marshes to the edges of rivers, floodplains, and estuaries, the Saddle-billed Stork is well-adapted to both freshwater and saltwater environments. Despite their broad range, they are typically found at low densities and are considered an uncommon sight.

The Saddle-billed stork has a diet that is as varied as its habitat. While fish constitute a significant portion of their diet, they are also known to prey on crustaceans, amphibians, small reptiles, and even small mammals and birds when available. Their hunting technique is patient and precise; they use their long bill to capture and subdue their prey in the shallow waters of their habitat.

These storks are solitary nesters, and unlike many other stork species, they do not form colonies. Their nesting preference is to build large, robust nests atop tall trees, often near water but not within the dense canopies. The nest construction is a joint effort between mates and can be used repeatedly over the years. Saddle-billed Storks are known to form long-term monogamous pair bonds, often lasting for life, and both parents are involved in the incubation and rearing of the young.

One interesting aspect of the Saddle-billed stork is that adults are typically silent, as they lack the typical voice box or syrinx that produces calls. Instead, they communicate through bill-clattering and body language, particularly during courtship and when defending their nesting territory.

Distribution

Country
Population est.
Status
Year
Comments
Angola
2016
Benin
2016
Botswana
2016
Burkina Faso
2016
Burundi
2016
Cameroon
2016
Central Af. Rep.
2016
Chad
2016
Congo-Brazzaville
2016
Côte D’ivoire
2016
DR Congo (Kinshasa)
2016
Djibouti
2016
Eritrea
2016
Eswatini
2016
Ethiopia
2016
Gabon
2016
Gambia
2016
Ghana
2016
Guinea-Bissau
2016
Kenya
2016
Malawi
2016
Mali
2016
Mauritania
2016
Non-Breeding
Mozambique
2016
Namibia
2016
Niger
2016
Nigeria
2016
Rwanda
2016
Senegal
2016
Somalia
2016
South Africa
2016
South Sudan
2016
Sudan
2016
Tanzania
2016
Togo
2016
Uganda
2016
Zambia
2016
Zimbabwe
2016

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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