Lesser Adjutant (Leptoptilos javanicus)

Lesser Adjutant

[order] CICONIIFORMES | [family] Ciconiidae | [latin] Leptoptilos javanicus | [authority] Horsfield, 1821 | [UK] Lesser Adjutant | [FR] Marabout chevelu | [DE] Kleiner Adjutant | [ES] Marabu Menor | [NL] Javaanse Maraboe


Genus Species subspecies Region Range
Leptoptilos javanicus OR widespread


Leptoptilos is a genus of very large tropical storks. Two species are resident breeders in southern Asia, and the Marabou Stork is found in sub-Saharan Africa. These are huge birds, typically 110?150 cm tall with a 210?250 cm wingspan. The three species each have a black upper body and wings, and white belly and undertail. The head and neck are bare like those of a vulture. The huge bill is long and thick. Juveniles are a duller, browner version of the adult. Leptoptilos storks are gregarious colonial breeders in wetlands, building large stick nests in trees. They feed on frogs, insects, young birds, lizards and rodents. They are frequent scavengers, and the naked head and neck are adaptations to this, as are those of the vultures with which they often feed. A feathered head would become rapidly clotted with blood and other substances when a scavenging bird’s head was inside a large corpse, and the bare head is easier to keep clean. Most storks fly with neck outstretched, but the three Leptoptilos storks retract their necks in flight like a heron. There is an ample fossil record of this genus. L. titan, which was hunted by prehistoric humans, was truly gigantic, and L. falconeri possibly was one of the most widespread storks worldwide during the Pliocene.

Physical charateristics

Very large stork, dark grey-black above, white below, with naked head and neck. Non-breeders have mostly yellowish head and neck skin with vinous-tinged head sides and contrastingly pale forehead. Breeding males show coppery spots on median coverts, narrow whitish edges to lower scapulars, tertials and inner greater coverts and redder head sides. Juvenile is duller and less glossy above, with more down on head and neck. Similar spp. Greater Adjutant L. dubius has more massive bill, paler head sides, pendulous neck-pouch, pale grey greater coverts and tertials.

wingspan min.: 0 cm wingspan max.: 0 cm
size min.: 122 cm size max.: 129 cm
incubation min.: 28 days incubation max.: 30 days
fledging min.: 47 days fledging max.: 52 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 1  
      eggs max.: 4  


Oriental Region : widespread


Inland, birds inhabit natural and man-modified wetlands, both open and forested. Coastal populations frequent mangroves and intertidal flats. It nests colonially in large trees, and historically on cliffs, often at traditional sites in or adjacent to wetlands. It utilises small wetlands within Asian dry forest, and can breed some distance from these; shrinking of pools during the dry season and limited availability can lead to overlap with human uses and resulting disturbance


The Lesser Adjutant generally nests in scattered, and usually small colonies, often admixed with other species; single nests are also recorded, perhaps increasingly as
populations dwindle. The timing of breeding events varies geographically and fluctuates annually, but tends to coincide with the beginning of the dry season.
Colonies tend to be sited in clumps of tall trees with a thick undergrowth of bamboo, but the key factor appears to be the proximity of water: colonies are generally
surrounded by wetlands (6-100 cm deep), marshy land (2-50 cm deep), small or large waterholes (20-150 cm deep) and paddyfields (1-50 cm deep). In Assam, a full clutch contains 2-4 eggs. Nests in Myanmar usually contained 3-4 eggs. In Indonesia clutches of one egg are apparently common; however, in 1998 the number of young in nests was usually two and in one case three. The incubation period generally lasts 28-30 days, during which time parental duties are shared almost equally by both adults. After hatching, at which time the nestlings are weak and sparsely covered by thin grey down, the adults brood almost constantly for 12-14 days, the amount of time decreasing gradually after the first week, except if there is any rain before the fourteenth day after hatching, in which case brooding recommence. Both adults bring food to the nestlings.

Feeding habits

Lesser adjutant storks feed mainly on fish, especially on mudskippers from the genus Periophthalmus, but have also been recorded eating frogs, reptiles, crustatceans, locust, rats, and carrion. Mudskippers are usually caught in the shallow water through walking and probing. On mudflats, feeding is usually done along the water’s edge, with individual birds spread out every 50 m or so.

Video Lesser Adjutant


copyright: Stefan Behrens


This stork is listed as Vulnerable because it has a small population which is rapidly declining, in particular as a result of hunting pressure.
Leptoptilos javanicus has an extensive range across South and South-East Asia. Substantial populations remain only in India (mostly in Assam, with c.2000 birds, West Bengal and Bihar where 42 nests confirmed breeding in 2004), Indonesia (c.2000 in 1993, the majority on Sumatra) and Cambodia (1000 individuals or >300 pairs). Smaller breeding populations (<200 pairs) occur in Nepal (in 2003 c.50 birds were recorded in Royal Chitwan National Park: the national population was recently estimated at c.300 individuals following surveys in east, central and western Nepal), Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Laos, Malaysia (c.500 individuals), Brunei, Vietnam and Thailand. It has been recorded in Bhutan but is thought to be extinct in China and in Singapore. Formerly common and widespread, it has declined dramatically across its range and has been extirpated from many areas in recent decades owing to persistent un-regulated harvesting of eggs and chicks at nesting colonies. However, some populations at least seem to be relatively stable, e.g. numbers in the Matang Mangrove Forest, Malaysia have remained relatively constant for 20 years. The current population estimate is 5000 birds, however, an increase in survey effort across much of the region has revised many national totals upwards. A recent analysis of Cambodian records estimated a national population of c.1870 pairs; precautionary interpretation of this figure suggests the previous national estimate of 1000 individuals should be revised upwards considerably to 2500-4000 individuals. Therefore, overall the global population may be considerably larger than previous estimates. Several threats are contributing to its decline, with their relative importance varying across its range. The loss of nest-sites through the felling of colony nest trees is a major threat, particularly in Assam. In many areas, drainage and conversion of wetland feeding areas, agricultural intensification, increased pesticide use and disturbance, and hunting and collection of eggs, chicks and adults are major threats. Coastal populations are threatened by large-scale development, including aquaculture and the clearance of mangroves. A recent, and very serious threat, recorded in Nepal and Cambodia is the practice of poisoning pools to catch fish, which leads to incidental mortality of this species.
Lesser Adjutant status Vulnerable


In general, most evidence suggests a relatively sedentary lifestyle in this species: it undertakes nomadic movements in response to rains, but no long distance or regular migrations.

Distribution map

Lesser Adjutant distribution range map

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *