Uganda: Shoebills at Mabamba Swamp

The very reason of coming to explore the Mabamba Swamp was to attempt to find the elusive and super rare shoebill. This prehistoric-looking giant bird is nearly on the verge of extinction, it’s estimated at only about 1000 birds remaining, although our bird guide at Mabamba thought it was less. Mabamba Swamp supposedly has only 10-12 birds in its 2500 ha of territory. As we entered the Mabamba Swamp in the early morning around 6:30am, we were told sightings are rare and not guaranteed – only 10 birds in the entire swamp! Our guide climbed on the front of the boat, and stood up with the binoculars ready to spot a distant bird. And in the next moment we both spotted the massive shoebill within just 2-3 meters/6-10 feet from us. He stood near the channel just across from the boat and didn’t really move or feel scared or seemingly care about us. We watched him for nearly 20 minutes before he moved, flew about 5 meters and landed again. Another hour or two of watching the totally magnificent bird followed. The shoebill is a tall and heavy bird, with a typical height of 110-140 cm (43-55 in) and weight of 4-7 kg (8.8-15.4 lb). Shoebill is not related to storks or pelicans, although there is a semblance (it’s not a dinosaur either). It’s a long living bird, up to 35 years. Shoebills build their nest as floating pads in the open water and hatch two chicks. Shoebills are very aggressive hunters and can take large catfish and lungfish, turtles, lizards, frogs and anything else with their massive beaks with a hook on end.The shoebill is considered one of the top three most covered birds to see on the African continent by birdwatchers all over the world.