Where to find a shoebill stock in Uganda : The shoebill stork bird, with a scientific name called Balaeniceps rex is one of the best bird species in Africa and certainly one of the most challenging birds to find in Africa. The shoebill stock birds earned the title “the most sought bird” of all the bird habitants of the African continent. The shoebill is also known as “whale head”, whale-headed stork, or shoe-billed stork, a very large stork-like bird which derives its name from its enormous shoe-shaped bill. Visitors do not need to be good birders or an ornithologist to experience the bird, the bird is so impressive and without doubt the most extraordinary bird to discover in Africa for any traveller. There are a few countries in Africa where to find this impressive bird and the few; Uganda has the best sights for the shoebill stock birdwatching experiences.
The shoebill stock bird has a shoe-shaped bill with a sharp hook quite big with about 30cm to 10 cm, a short neck, darkish plumage, and long legs with the structure of a human foot that ends in a ferocious nail-like hook. It also has a broad in the wing, standing well over at 20 meters high and dressed in blue-grey kind of colour; with its yellow eyes the bird also has a violent appearance. A shoebill stock has a life span of over 36 years and is a wading bird found in papyrus marshes of tropical East Africa in the Great Lake region. They live in more open areas preferably swamps and in particular vegetation formed by papyrus and tall grass. 20% of Uganda’s landscape is covered by fresh water lakes, Rivers and swamps and for this reason; Uganda is probably the best destination in Africa to find the Shoebill stork birds. Since they only stay around waterbodies, they tend to feed on small animals such as the lungfish, snails, baby crocodiles, frogs, and turtles.
Uganda inhabits approximately 1,000 bird species in different places like in semi-arid areas, savannah areas, lowland areas, montane rainforests, swampy areas, volcanoes, lakes, rivers, and many other places. Uganda has 50% of all the bird species in Africa and 11% of the world’s bird species hence making it a birders’ haven. Some of the commonly found bird species in Uganda include; the papyrus gonolek, pallid harrier, the African Fish Eagle, swamp flycatcher, malachite kingfisher, African marsh harrier, African ground hornbill, handsome francolin, and of course the rare shoebill stock
Below are the best places in Uganda where you have great chances of seeing the shoebill stock bill while on a Uganda Safari tour.
Mabamba swamp on Lake Victoria
One of the places in Uganda where you are guaranteed to see the shoebill stock birds is the Mabamba swamp on Lake Victoria and can be accessed from Entebbe about 45 minutes’ drive from Kampala city the capital of Uganda. While at the shores, you will meet a local community guide of the Mabamba swamp who will take the canoe with you on a full day or half day trip to the swamp for birdwatching on one of the landing sites on Lake Victoria. Bird watching at Mabamba is interesting as the place is less disturbed thus more favourable for birds especially the very shy Shoebill. There is also less human activity like fishing on this site thus this gives more food for the Shoebill and other fish-eating birds. It is on a rare occasion not to find the shoebill here however, if you miss out on this one while still in Entebbe, you can also find the shoebill at the Wildlife Education Centre. It is less than 40 minutes’ drive or in the same area as Mabamba swamp, there is also Makanaga Bay. It is not a popular place as Mabamba swamp but also a great place thus it gets less travellers for birding. Other places close to Lake Vaictoria include; Kyabakuza Swamp, Lutembe bay and Lwera Swamp along Masaka road.
Murchison falls national park
The Nile Delta spot in Murchison Falls National Park is also a great place to spot the shoebill stock bird. Other areas around the River Nile and Lake Albert in this park are indicated as popular sites to spot the shoebill. The best time to find the shoebill in Murchison falls national park is very early in the morning or late evening, you take a boat trip along River Nile towards the delta area. It is said that Lake Albert delta is liked by most birders because of its great opportunity to see shoebills compared to any other place in Africa. Apart from seeing the Shoebill stock, taking a Nile Delta boat cruise will reward you with sights of other bird species like the Swamp flycatcher, Giant Kingfishers, Abyssinian ground hornbill, Goliath Heron just to mention a few
Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary
The Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is situated in Nakasongola district about 176 kilometers from Kampala on along Kampala-Gulu Highway. The sanctuary is home to the rhinos in Uganda however, it is home to also the most sought bird in Uganda – the shoebill stock. The search of the shoebill stock in Ziwa sanctuary starts quite early at 6 am in the Lugogo swamp, the experience is provided through the canoe ride. Some of the other bird species can be spotted include the African King eagle and the Giant kingfisher and many others, Where to find a shoebill stock in Uganda.
Toro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve near Lake Albert
While here, you can also see the shoebill stock in the shores of the Southern part of Lake Albert. This activity is arranged by the Semliki Safari Lodge. Birders love this place because not only does this place offer them with great chances of viewing the shoebill stock but also to come across other several species of birds including the Guinea-Congo forests Biome species recorded in Semuliki forest such as the Capuchin, white-tailed/Piping hornbill, blue headed, crested flycatcher, Orange Weaver, and Red-billed Malimbe. Along the western border down to Lake Albert and surrounding swamps, we find birds like the Papyrus Gonolek, Caruther’s Cisticola, African Pygmy Goose, Blue-breasted and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters and Blue-headed Coucal, and schools of hippos among others.
Other destinations in Uganda to find the shoebill stock include the Lake Edward flats in the marsh shore on the extreme south end of Lake Edward in Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth national park. This swampy patch on the northern circuit hosting quite a few waterfowl has often provided opportunities to see the shoebill during the game drives.
In conclusion, although the rare shoebill can easily be found in the wetland areas of Uganda, there are other African countries where these magnificent birds can be spotted like Tanzania, Rwanda, South Sudan among others. Uganda would be having more than 1,000 shoebills stock birds however due human activities like fishing, they have decreased in number as a result of fishermen who kill them with a belief of them being a bad omen./bad luck to them