The Marabou has a reputation as the undertaker of Africa’s wild places. Even if you didn’t know about their love for the dead and dying (or rather, how those taste) you’d still think they just simply look the part when you see them solemnly striding around a carcass. Staining their otherwise dignified, albeit grotesque, appearance, their legs are whitewashed with excrement, thought to assist in keeping the bird cool. These enormous storks have a wingspan of 3m or more, weigh up to 9kg and stand up to 1.5m tall.
The Marabou occurs in savannas and grasslands where it can often be found in swamps and on the shores of rivers, dams and receding pools, though they spend much of the day soaring on the thermals kilometers above the ground. They feed on carrion, fish, eggs, insects and small vertebrates – even baby crocodiles! They also frequent the grounds of abattoirs (blogger Rondomtaliedraai has a great shot on her blog) and rubbish dumps, having learned that human waste is an excellent food source. Breeding in colonies numbering from twenty to thousands of pairs starts in the dry season, when nests (platforms of sticks) are built in tall trees, on cliffs and even on buildings, usually in close proximity to a reliable food source. Two to three eggs are laid.
The Marabou occurs over much of sub-saharan Africa, and their population appears to be growing. The IUCN evaluated their overall conservation status “Least Concern“, but in South Africa, where they are most often found in the large game reserves of Kwazulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and North West Provinces, they are considered near-threatened, with even the Kruger National Park‘s resident population estimated at only between 200 and 400 adult birds.