Surprise appearance

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SUPERIOR LOOK: Rarely seen in our area, the yellow-billed stork occurs in aquatic habitats, such as large rivers, inland lakes and coastal estuaries Picture: TIM COCKCROFT
SUPERIOR LOOK: Rarely seen in our area, the yellow-billed stork occurs in aquatic habitats, such as large rivers, inland lakes and coastal estuaries Picture: TIM COCKCROFT

Let’s Chirp with Tim Cockcroft

THIS week we are going to chirp about a bird that is not usually found in our area, but has recently put in an appearance of note – the yellow-billed stork.

A few weeks ago, 13 of these birds suddenly pitched up at the large pan at the Diaz Cross turnoff near Boknes. They stayed for a few days, then disappeared. A few days later, a group of nine birds re-appeared. Since then, they have been seen at either this pan, or the Ngciyo pans on the Bushman’s River. More recently, three of these storks arrived at the Duckpond in the centre of Port Alfred, making it much easier to get close-up photos.

These handsome birds are common up north, but are quite scarce in the Eastern Cape. They are only partially migratory within Africa and are also nomadic, so although they are not regular in our area, they could pitch up anywhere.

The yellow-billed stork is quite unmistakeable with its tall, “superior” look, overall white appearance with a broad, black edge to the wings. Of course, as the name implies, the long, heavy bill is yellow. The face and forehead are bare and red. In breeding condition, the back and part of the wings become beautifully tinged and patterned with rosy pink hues. The young birds are a dirtier-looking version of the adults, the feathers being quite a bit browner, with the face not being quite as bare.

They occur in aquatic habitats, such as large rivers, inland lakes and coastal estuaries, where they feed on fish, frogs, insects and whatever they can find in the shallow water. They tend to arrive at dams that are getting low or drying up, where the fish are more concentrated. They search for their prey by wading through the wader with their bill almost submerged and open, while stirring with one foot and sometimes spreading one wing.

I have some video footage of these birds on Youtube, which can be found on my channel, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7T_X_axEwnY if you would like to view some of this behaviour.

The yellow-billed stork is a strong flyer, capable of soaring high up in the air. When arriving at their chosen spot, they circle lower and lower. Just before they land, they give a sharp, sideways “dip” before touching ground. When they are finished with a good meal, they rest in typical comical stork fashion, sitting down on the ground with the bottom half of their legs pointing forward.

Well, that’s it for this week, folks. If you would like to book a birdwatching tour with me, please call me on 072-314-0069. Until next time, happy birding!

 

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