Readers’ wildlife photos

Reader “John in Ethiopia” sends an amazing photo of amazing birds, maribou storks (Leptoptilos crumeniferus), denizens of sub-Saharan Africa. His notes:

Marabou storks at the fish market in Awasa, a town in the Rift Valley in Ethiopia, 200 miles south of Addis. It makes me think of a Hieronymus Bosch painting. They are truly hideous birds, but I suspect very well adapted!

Maribou storks

And, indeed, Professor CC found a Bosch bird with an striking resemblance: look at the birds on the left both above and below:


I’m adding a YouTube video of a maribou stork in Palmitos Park in the Canary Islands. The caption is below:

The Marabou Stork (Leptoptilos crumeniferus) is a large wading bird in the stork family Ciconiidae and it has the largest wingspread of any living bird. Sometimes he is called the “Undertaker Bird” due to its shape from behind: cloak like wings and back, skinny white legs and he walks so funny. In this video he is doing his perform air acrobatics in free flight in the bird`s show in Palmitos Park in Gran Canarias. It´s over +38 degrees this day and the other birds have tuff time to make it, but it´s not a problem for the Undertaker. It breeds in Africa south of the Sahara in both wet and arid habitats, often near human habitation, especially waste tips. See the video and meet Mr Undertaker the Marabou Stork.

Now I’m not sure about the wingspan, as I thought the Andean Condor had the world’s largest. Also, I wonder why, if this bird can fly, it doesn’t fly away. Either its feathers are clipped to prevent long flights, or it simply hangs around for the free noms.


  1. Posted July 9, 2014 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    I think it is funny that people felt these creatures delivered babies. Yeah, I know they are different storks but it is still funny.

    • Dominic
      Posted July 9, 2014 at 7:49 am | Permalink

      I was told I was found under a gooseberry bush…!

  2. D. Taylor
    Posted July 9, 2014 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    Fascinating bird. He may be a stork, but he’s got the demeanor of a vulture–a vulture, that is, with the gait of a Tennessee walking horse.

    • bacopa
      Posted July 9, 2014 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

      A very astute observation. New world vultures are not at all related to Old world vultures, but are in fact related to storks and herons. In fact, the relationship is so close that some taxonomists lump them in the same order as storks and herons.

  3. BilBy
    Posted July 9, 2014 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    Hideous? I always quite liked them – very solemn. They are a feature of many east African towns. I hesitate to say this here, but I have seen one eating a juvenile totem-animal-of-this website. That might be enough to make them hideous after all.

    • John Crisp
      Posted July 9, 2014 at 7:47 am | Permalink

      The hideousness is of course a subjective human response to their appearance of being born with a skin disease and those strange orange carbuncles at the base of the neck. On their own they are indeed solemn, but when I saw this lot in Awasa, the immediate impression was one of rapaciousness.

    • John Crisp
      Posted July 9, 2014 at 7:48 am | Permalink

      And in flight, of course, they are graceful and magnificent.

    • Posted July 9, 2014 at 8:35 am | Permalink

      Indeed; those birds aren’t hideous at all. They’re gloriously beautiful. Poetry in motion. And the colors!

      Vultures get a similar bad rap that I just can’t understand. Their plumage is darker than the depths of space, and I’m not sure any other bird is as graceful in the air. They truly defy gravity in a way that only astronauts should be able to.


  4. Hempenstein
    Posted July 9, 2014 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    Marabou has a completely different connotation in Sweden. I wish some of the commercials they made in the early 80’s were on YT, but here’s one from the ’50s.

  5. Dominic
    Posted July 9, 2014 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    Wandering Albertross Diomedea exulans has the largest wingspan of a LIVING bird – up to 3.5m BUT you cannot have missed this latest extinct giant winged discovery?

  6. Jesper Both Pedersen
    Posted July 9, 2014 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    Is wingspread the same as wingspan?

  7. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted July 9, 2014 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    I think it would be obvious if the wings were clipped. I do not see any sign of it.

  8. Mark R.
    Posted July 9, 2014 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    I like those birds, thanks for the photo.

    I like Bosch too…actually a friend of mine did a linoleum etching of the “bird” on the right. He made a bunch of t-shirts with it. Nice to see it again on canvas.

  9. Diane G.
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

    Fantastic bird, and very cool action shot, John!

    I love the video, esp. the first part when bird and trainer are walking in step. 😀

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