At the Zoo: Hoping for a nest egg

The marabou stork is an odd-looking creature that seems to be made of parts from a variety of other birds.

Marabou storks 521 (R) (photo credit: Reuters)
Marabou storks 521 (R)
(photo credit: Reuters)
In the Jerusalem Zoo’s largest enclosure, in among some of the largest animals, is a curious bird that has one of the largest wingspans in the world.
Marabou storks have long skinny legs that enable them to wade into water and scavenge for any dead creatures that may be floating by.
Their long beaks and scrawny necks, reminiscent of vultures, are well suited to tearing flesh from every inch of any fresh carcass they can find. These birds prefer to have their meat dead on arrival, but they will occasionally hunt small animals.
The pair at the zoo have been together for more than 10 years, but so far they have produced no young. This is not unusual for marabous, which are notoriously hard to breed in captivity. The couple clearly want to produce heirs; they spend their day building a large nest and will sometimes put stones inside it, which they then take turns sitting on, just like an egg. Exactly why marabous don’t breed in zoos is a mystery, but their numbers in the wild are so great that there is currently no threat to the species.
The storks get on well with the other animals in the Africa exhibit where they reside, although they are not beyond chasing away a giraffe or zebra that strays too close to their nest. In a show of force, they will spread their wings, which can measure almost three meters from wing tip to wing tip, one of the largest wingspans of any land bird – larger even than the ostriches with which they share the enclosure.
Marabou feathers, which are down, are sometimes used for decoration for hats or as lure for fishing.
The marabous are active throughout the day, usually busy building their nest. The nest can be seen clearly by the edge of the exhibit’s large pool, just next to a green bush. However, visitors who want to see the marabou’s impressive wingspan will have to hope that one of the zebras, or perhaps a rhino, comes too close for comfort.