Diet

Shoebills are carnivores, meat eaters, which eat mostly fish. They spread out over the water and keep to themselves when they are fishing. Shoebills have three different ways of fishing. They often stand in the water, waiting for prey to swim by. They can stand almost motionless with their bills pointing downward for a half hour or longer. Sometimes they stand on floating plants and watch for prey. Their long toes spread their weight on the plants, but after a while, the birds gradually sink into the water. If there is an open channel of slow-moving water, shoebills might walk slowly along it. Channels are trails that big mammals make through the thick water plants, opening up places where shoebills would not be able to go otherwise.

The best place for shoebills to fish is a marsh or pond where the water is drying up. Then large numbers of fish have to swim close together and they are easy to catch. Shoebills eat mostly lungfish and other fish that swim near the surface. But they also catch turtles, water snakes, lizards, frogs, young crocodiles, young water birds, snails, and rodents. They catch fish that are as long as 19 inches (48 centimeters). They prey catch by sight and possibly by hearing, but shoebills are not able to feel the underwater animals with their bills.

When shoebills are fishing, they stand and point their bills straight down so that they can see with both eyes. If they spot a fish or other water animal, they instantly throw their wings forward and their heads downward. Then they quickly snap up the prey with their bills. The hook on their bills helps to hold slippery prey. After swallowing prey, shoebills usually drink some water.

A WILD WAY TO STAY COOL

When people have wet skin, they usually feel cooler than when it is dry. Storks, New World vultures, and possibly shoebills have discovered the same thing. They often squirt their liquid droppings onto their legs to cool off. As the liquid evaporates, the blood in their legs is cooled. Then the cool blood circulates to the rest of the bird's body. Scientists have studied the birds' body temperatures when their legs are wet and when they are dry, and they have found that the birds are cooler when their legs are wet.

Shoebill (Balaeniceps rex)

Resident

Shoebill (Balaeniceps rex)

Resident

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