Home | Bird Behavior | Remembering Jake, a Most Unique and Long-Lived Marabou Stork

Remembering Jake, a Most Unique and Long-Lived Marabou Stork

Maribou StorkLike most old zookeepers, I have a soft spot for old animals.  I’ve been fortunate in having had the chance to care for a number of birds that survived to record longevities – a Pell’s Fishing Owl and Smoky Eagle Owl of 50+ years, a tiny Egyptian Plover that lived into its 20’s, and any number of Parrots.  But it is a “50-something”-year-old Marabou Stork (Leptoptilos crumeniferus), known to his Bronx Zoo caretakers as “Jake”, who stands out most vividly in my mind.

No Bird of Paradise!

Marabou Storks are high up on the list of “Most Peculiar Looking” (some say ugliest!) Birds.  Standing nearly 5 feet tall and with a near 8-foot-wide wingspan, their bald heads, “hunched” stature and pendulous pink air sacs lend them a most improbable appearance.

Marabou Storks eat nearly anything, and in their native Africa are much valued for consuming carrion, snakes, rodents and garbage.  Ranging throughout much of Sub-Saharan Africa, they are among the most visible of the continent’s large birds, and always draw gasps from safari-goers.

Catching His Own Food

Jake spent the warmer months in the zoo’s huge, moated African Plains exhibit, and I often watched him from a nearby bench as I ate lunch.  Springtime brought with it a plethora of inexperienced and tasty young animals, and Jake was in his glory.  While it was hard to see everything that he caught in the exhibit’s high grasses and along its pond, I’m quite sure that good number of the year’s crop of Chipmunks, Meadow Voles, Short-tailed Shrews and Garter Snakes found their way into Jake’s cavernous maw.

But his “specialty” was ambushing Peafowl chicks, and he developed quite a successful strategy.  Standing very still and appearing like nothing more than a decaying tree stump (which visitors often accused him of being!), Jake waited until a Peahen led her brood close-by (60 or so Peafowl lived at large in the zoo, and many nested in the African Plains exhibit).  As soon as most were past him, Jake would very “carefully” reach out and snatch the last chick in the line.  No mad rushes for this hunter…often the Peahen went about her business without realizing that she was one chick short.  By summertime, the “dimmer” of the Peahens were leading about only a chick or two!

Glum Winters

Maribou StorkJake spent winters in an indoor cage.  He endured this indignity stoically, but I noticed that he greeted his standard meal – thawed mice and commercial bird-of-prey diet (horsemeat) – without much enthusiasm.  He was easy to work around outdoors, but when inside Jake was prone to using his massive bill against those who ventured too close!

If you live near a zoo that houses Marabou Storks in outdoor exhibits, by all means spend some time watching them.  If possible, take along binoculars and please let me know what they catch – for they will catch something, that’s for sure!

Further Reading

You can learn a great deal about the natural history of Maribou Storks on the website of the National Zoological Park.

Don’t miss this wonderful Video of Maribou Storks feeding, grooming and mating atop massive nests in Kenya.


Marabou Stork image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Hugh Lunnon and Snowmanradio


  1. avatar

    Dear Frank

    Once again you added to my knowledge of these birds present in Namibia as well!Being side line bird watchers only, these birds are not that easily seen…mainly because, like you have stated, prefer vast open plains. Most probably because, like vultures, are in a certain way dependent on warm currents that eases their flight?
    Anyhow, they truly are cool in every way – their looks as well as their gentle, slow stalking way, up to the flexibility in their necks when looking for something on the ground….

    Thanxzzz for sharing all your observations!

    Best regards

  2. avatar

    Hello Gert, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks, must be wonderful to see maribous in the wild, even from a distance. I haven’t looked into it, but believe you are right concerning warm air currents. Ours were wing-clipped, but I’ve seen Jabiru storks take off in S America and they definitely need a lot of space, and possibly the right wind direction/speed, to get aloft.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    Frank, you mentioned cutting of wings. Have you got any references on wing cutting of parrots? I found an very nice method which works very well for me:
    We take each “carrier” feather of a wing an clip along the feather grain…NOT through.
    That way there is no surface for air.
    Secondly we leave the tip of the feather uncut. That way the wings do not look too obviously cut at all.
    Thirdly, we only cut the one side of each feather (the bigger side). The reason is that there is still a bit surface for aeration, just enough that the bird does not FALL on the ground but rather glides…

    Hope it makes sense, other wise I will have to make some pics one day…

    Best regards

  4. avatar

    Hello Gert, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for the great idea; several unique twists there that should be of use to others; I’ll keep on file for future reference. Sounds like it would enable males to mount during mating as well, which is a concern with some more drastic methods.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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