The African Openbill is a fairly small stork (up to 1.3kg) that migrates across the African equatorial zone following the rains to areas where their favourite food is in easy supply. Their preferred habitat is shallow wetlands and quiet backwaters of large rivers and lakes, where they feed mainly on aquatic molluscs (snails and mussels) which they easily open using their superbly adapted bill. They’ll also consume fish, frogs, crabs and other kinds of invertebrates they find while scouring the water. Breeding takes place colonially (up to 100 or more pairs, often in mixed groups with other kinds of birds as well) during the rainy season, when nests of sticks are built in vegetation over water or in reedbeds. Eggs are incubated by both parents for 25-30 days and the chicks fledge at about two months of age. African Openbills forage alone, in pairs or in dispersed flocks that can number up to 50 or more.
The African Openbill has a wide distribution and a fairly large, though decreasing, population in Africa south of the Sahara, being considered of “Least Concern” by the IUCN. In South Africa, where they’re classified as near-threatened due to loss of habitat, they occur mostly in the Lowveld of Limpopo and Mpumalanga (with a resident population of around 300 in the Kruger Park) and Kwazulu-Natal, although vagrants have been recorded in all the other provinces.