AskDefine | Define shoebill

Dictionary Definition

shoebill n : large stork-like bird of the valley of the White Nile with a broad bill suggesting a wooden shoe [syn: shoebird, Balaeniceps rex]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A tall wading bird, Balaeniceps rex, related to the stork, native to tropical African swamps.


Extensive Definition

The Shoebill, Balaeniceps rex, also known as Whalehead, is a very large bird related to the storks. It derives its name from its massive shoe-shaped bill.
The Shoebill is a very large bird, averaging 1.2 metres (4 ft) tall, 5.6 kilograms (12.3 lbs) and a 2.33 metres (7.7 ft) wingspan. The adult is mainly grey while the juveniles are browner. It lives in tropical east Africa in large swamps from Sudan to Zambia.
This species was only discovered in the 19th century when some skins were brought to Europe. It was not until years later that live specimens reached the scientific community. However, the bird was known to both ancient Egyptians and Arabs. There are Egyptian images depicting the Shoebill, while the Arabs referred to the bird as abu markub, which means one with a shoe, a reference to the bird's distinctive bill.
Shoebills feed in muddy waters, preying on lungfish and similar fish. They nest on the ground and lay 2 eggs.
The population is estimated at between 5,000 and 8,000 individuals, the majority of which live in Sudan. BirdLife International have classified it as Vulnerable with the main threats being habitat destruction, disturbance and hunting. The Shoebill is one of the bird taxa whose taxonomic treatment is murky. Traditionally allied with the storks (Ciconiiformes), it was retained there in the Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy which lumped a massive number of unrelated taxa into their "Ciconiiformes". More recently, the shoebill has been considered to be closer to the pelicans (based on anatomical comparisons; Mayr, 2003) or the herons (based on biochemical evidence; Hagey et al., 2002). The fossil record does not shed much light on the issue, as usual when dealing with birds. So far, two fossil relatives of the shoebill have been described: Goliathia from the early Oligocene of Egypt and Paludavis from the Early Miocene of the same country. It has been suggested that the enigmatic African fossil bird Eremopezus was a relative too, but the evidence for that is very spurious indeed. All that is known of Eremopezus is that it was a very large, probably flightless bird with a flexible foot, allowing it to handle either vegetation or prey.



  • Hagey, J. R.; Schteingart, C. D.; Ton-Nu, H.-T. & Hofmann, A. F. (2002): A novel primary bile acid in the Shoebill stork and herons and its phylogenetic significance. Journal of Lipid Research 43(5): 685–690. PDF fulltext
  • Mayr, Gerald (2003): The phylogenetic affinities of the Shoebill (Balaeniceps rex). Journal für Ornithologie 144(2): 157-175. [English with German abstract] HTML abstract
shoebill in Danish: Træskonæb
shoebill in German: Schuhschnabel
shoebill in Esperanto: Ŝubekulo
shoebill in Spanish: Balaeniceps rex
shoebill in Finnish: Kenkänokka
shoebill in French: Balaenicipitidae
shoebill in Italian: Balaeniceps rex
shoebill in Hebrew: מנעלן
shoebill in Hungarian: Papucscsőrű madár
shoebill in Japanese: ハシビロコウ
shoebill in Georgian: ვეშაპთავა ყანჩა
shoebill in Lithuanian: Batasnapiniai
shoebill in Dutch: Schoenbekooievaar (familie)
shoebill in Polish: Trzewikodziób
shoebill in Russian: Китоглав
shoebill in Slovak: Člnozobcotvaré
shoebill in Swedish: Träskonäbb
shoebill in Chinese: 鯨頭鸛
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