Saddle-billed Stork (Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis)

Saddle-billed Stork

[order] CICONIIFORMES | [family] Ciconiidae | [latin] Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis | [authority] Shaw, 1800 | [UK] Saddle-billed Stork | [FR] Jabiru du Senegal | [DE] Sattelstorch | [ES] Jabiru Africano | [NL] Zadelbekooievaar


Monotypic species


Tribe Leptoptilini comprising ?giant storks? basically constitutes two forms, genus Ephippiorhynchus and Jabiru in one group and genus Leptoptilos in the other. Ephippiorhynchus is a small genus of storks. It contains two living species only, very large birds more than 140 cm tall with a 230?270 cm wingspan. Both are mainly black and white, with huge colourful, mainly red and black bills. The sexes of these species are similarly plumaged, but differ in eye colour. The members of this genus are sometimes called “jabirus”, but this properly refers to a close relative from Latin America. A prehistoric relative, Ephippiorhynchus pakistanensis, has been described from Late Miocene fossils found in Pakistan. At about the same time, another now-extinct species occurred in eastern to central Africa. These large wading birds breed in marshes and other wetlands, building a large, deep stick nest in a tree. Like most storks, they fly with the neck outstretched, not retracted like a heron; in flight, they present a strange shape, with the head and large bill somewhat drooping down. They are silent except for bill-clattering at the nest. Ephippiorhynchus storks, like most of their relatives, feeds mainly on fish, frogs and crabs, but also on young birds, and other land vertebrates. They move in a deliberate and stately manner as they hunt, in a similar way to the larger heron. These birds are not infrequently kept in captivity by zoos or aviculturalists. Individuals occasionally escape, and these have been proposed to be responsible for sightings of “Big Bird” cryptids; the Saddle-billed Stork is the most likely basis for the Kongamato. The genus name Ephippiorhynchus is derived from Ancient Greek ephippos, a saddle (literally “something which is placed on a horse”), and rhynchus, “bill”, and refers to the frontal shield which saddles the bill of one species.

Physical charateristics

It is spectacularly plumaged, identical in male and female. The head, neck, back, wings, and tail are iridescent black, with the rest of the body and the primary flight feathers being white. Juveniles are browner grey in plumage. The massive bill is red with a black band and a yellow frontal shield (the ?saddle?). The legs and feet are black with pink knees. On the chest is a bare red patch of skin, whose colour darkens during breeding season

Listen to the sound of Saddle-billed Stork

[audio: Stork.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 260 cm wingspan max.: 270 cm
size min.: 145 cm size max.: 155 cm
incubation min.: 30 days incubation max.: 35 days
fledging min.: 70 days fledging max.: 100 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 1  
      eggs max.: 2  


Africa : widespread. The Marabou Stork is found throughout most of tropical Africa


It inhabits extensive fresh, brackish or alkaline wetlands in open, semi-arid areas and savanna, with relatively high abundances of fish and with large trees nearby for nesting and roosting (although it avoids deeply forested areas). Suitable habitats include shallow freshwater marshes, wet grasslands, the margins of large or small rivers, lake shores, pans and flood-plains.


Breeding starts late in the rains or in the dry season, timed so that the young fledge at the height of the dry season when prey is concentrated and easier to obtain. The species nests in solitary pairs and usually remains solitary when not breeding although it may occur in small family parties or in groups of up to 12 individuals. The nest is a large flat platform of sticks placed up to 20-30 m2 in a tree near water isolated from other trees and sources of disturbance. It may also nest on cliffs and in the abandoned nests of other bird species. It builds a large, deep stick nest in a tree, laying one or two white eggs. The incubation period is 30-35 days, with another 70 – 100 days before the chicks fledge.

Feeding habits

Its diet consists predominantly of fish 15-30 cm long up to 500 g in weight, as well as crabs, shrimps, frogs, reptiles, small mammals, young birds, molluscs and insects (e.g. large water beetles, termite alates)

Video Saddle-billed Stork


copyright: Josep del Hoyo


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size may be small, but it is not believed to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
The overall population trend is suspected to be decreasing.The species is vulnerable to disturbance and to wetland degradation (e.g. pesticide contamination) and conversion to agriculture.
Saddle-billed Stork status Least Concern


There is no evidence that this species undertakes any regular long-distance migration, although it is not altogether sedentary1 as some populations make local nomadic movements to optimum foraging habitats during periods of drought or when large rivers are in flood.

Distribution map

Saddle-billed Stork distribution range map

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