Painted Stork (Mycteria leucocephala)

Painted Stork

[order] CICONIIFORMES | [family] Ciconiidae | [latin] Mycteria leucocephala | [authority] Pennant, 1769 | [UK] Painted Stork | [FR] Tatale indien | [DE] Buntstorch | [ES] Tantalo Indio | [NL] Indische Nimmerzat


Monotypic species


Mycteria is a genus of large tropical storks with representatives in the Americas, east Africa and southern and southeastern Asia. Two species have “ibis” in their scientific or old common names, but they are not related to these birds and simply look more similar to an ibis than do other storks. The Mycteria storks are large birds, typically around 90?100 cm in length with a 150 cm wingspan. The body plumage is mainly white in all the species, with black in the flight feathers of the wings. The Old World species have a bright yellow bill, red or yellow bare facial skin and red legs, but these parts are much duller in the Wood Stork of tropical America. Juvenile birds are a duller version of the adult, generally browner, and with a paler bill. They are broad-winged soaring birds that fly with the neck outstretched and legs extended. They are resident breeders in lowland wetlands with trees in which build large stick nests.
Two prehistoric relatives of the Wood Stork have been described from fossils. 1) Mycteria milleri (Miller’s Stork) (Valentine Middle Miocene of Cherry County, USA) – formerly Dissourodes. 2) Mycteria wetmorei (Wetmore’s Stork) (Late Pleistocene of W and SE USA, and Cuba)
The latter seems to have been a larger sister species of the Wood Stork, which it replaced in prehistoric North America. Late Miocene tarsometatarsus fragments (Ituzaingo Formation at Parana, Argentina) are somewhat similar to Mycteria but still distinct enough to be probably a distinct genus, especially considering their age. A Late Pleistocene distal radius from San Josecito Cavern (Mexico) may belong in this genus or in Ciconia. A “ciconiiform” fossil fragment from the Touro Passo Formation found at Arroio Touro Passo (Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil) might be of the living species M. americana; it is at most of Late Pleistocene age, a few 10.000s of years.

Physical charateristics

It is mostly white in color, with black and white markings on its wing and chest feathers. It also has light pink on its lower back. Its legs are pink also. Its head is partly bare of feathers, and is orange-red in color, and its bill is long, yellowish, and slightly curved towards the end. Both male and female look the same, though the female is slightly smaller in height.

wingspan min.: 150 cm wingspan max.: 160 cm
size min.: 93 cm size max.: 102 cm
incubation min.: 27 days incubation max.: 32 days
fledging min.: 55 days fledging max.: 60 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 3  
      eggs max.: 5  


Oriental Region : India, Southeast Asia


It frequents freshwater marshes, lakes and reservoirs, flooded fields, rice paddies, freshwater swamp forest, river banks, intertidal mudflats and saltpans.


Painted Storks live together in large colonies near water. They often share their habitat with other species of storks, as well as herons, ibises, cormorants, and spoonbills. These particular storks make their large nests in the trees close to the water’s edge. The nests are made with sticks and lined with leaves. The males do most of the stick gathering, while the females build the nests with the sticks brought back by their mates. Breeding season for the Painted Stork is at the end of the rainy season. At mating time, the male storks perform many ritualistic displays in order to attract a mate. They will preen, fly about, and snap their bills, all in hopes of getting a female stork’s attention. Once mated, the pair builds their nest. The female stork lays 3 to 5 eggs, and then incubation lasts for 27 to 32 days. Both parents incubate their eggs, and both care for their young. Once the hatchlings break free of their shells, they are fed regurgitated fish by their parents until they are able to catch their own food. The baby storks are sheltered from the sun by their parents’ partially opened wings. When the storks are young, they are able to make a loud call to attract the attention of their parents, but by the time they are 18 months old they are practically voiceless, just like the adult storks. The young storks are brownish in color when they hatch, and don’t grow in their full adult feathers, or plumage, until they are 3 years old. They are fully mature at 4 years old.

Feeding habits

The favorite food of the Painted Stork is fish, though sometimes they will eat frogs as well. The stork sticks its head into shallow water, with its bill partially open, and swings its head back and forth in search of fish. Sometimes it will use a wing to direct fish towards its bill. When it senses it has touched a fish or frog with its bill, it snaps it shut, capturing its prey. They will also eat snails.

Video Painted Stork


copyright: Pieter de Groot Boersma


Although one of the most abundant of the Asian storks this species is classified as Near Threatened because it is thought to be undergoing a moderately rapid population decline owing to hunting, drainage and pollution.
Mycteria leucocephala occurs in Pakistan (scarce; mainly confined to the Indus delta region), Nepal (rare in terai; mainly a summer visitor), India (widespread and locally common resident), Bangladesh (former resident, now a straggler to coastal regions), Sri Lanka (locally abundant, particularly in the dry zone), China (previously a common summer visitor in south, probably breeding, but now rare and possibly extinct), Myanmar (former resident in central region and visitor throughout; current status unknown but clearly rare), Thailand (previously common breeder in south, now on verge of extinction, small numbers recorded sporadically elsewhere), Laos (previously widespread, now rare), Vietnam (formerly widespread resident, now a rare non-breeding visitor), Cambodia (local resident, minimum of several hundred pairs breeding at Tonle Sap) and Peninsular Malaysia (previously regular, now a vagrant). There are an estimated 15,000 individuals in South Asia and fewer than 10,000 in South-East Asia, with populations declining throughout. Although it is considered one of the most numerous and secure of Asian storks, this is more a reflection of the rarity and endangerment of most storks in the region, than the security of this species.
Painted Stork status Near Threatened


They are not migratory and only make short distance movements in some parts of their range in response to food and for breeding

Distribution map

Painted Stork distribution range map

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