Arguably the largest bird one can see around our towns more often than not, with a wing spanning 3.7 meters (largest wing span of any living land bird), 130 cm tall and weighing up to 9 kg. Females are although smaller than the males. Being large and heavy, their legs and toe bones are hollow. They are endemic to Africa South of the Sahara.
In Nairobi, one can easily see the Marabou Stork (Leptoptilos crumeniferus) on Mombasa road around a place well known as Nyayo Stadium as they lazily stand motionless on trees and buildings. Around our towns, you will not miss this bird on major landfill sites in our urban areas as they scavenge for food with their allies the occasional pied crows and the black kite. You will not fail to see its vast wings as they elegantly use thermal up-draughts to give them the needed lift as they fly through our skies. (Sometimes I wonder how ostriches would look like above us if they flew)
This bird was actually not a town bird (Quite a long time ago – Source from a very known birder/conservationist Fleur Ng’weno) Tourists used to go to the Masai Mara/Serengeti to see them as that’s the only place you could see them in very large flocks. They were a big attraction back in the day. This is not to say they have lost their charm, in fact, I would say they have learnt to coexist with us, humans, in our busy on the go lifestyles here in our towns making them a big town attraction. They have endured our smog from our car exhausts and factories and have seen their homes been cut down to prevent branches from causing accidents on our roads or injuring people on walk ways. They have ignored our awkward mentality of considering them an ‘ugly’ sight and seem to always say ‘we aren’t going nowhere’. I, personally, find them spectacular.
What would make a bird leave lush green environs (food) and clean fresh air for our polluted urban areas? I would say….Maybe there is less competition for food in our towns because it definitely is not for mates, the food in our towns is easier to get and requires less energy plus it’s in plenty due to urban growth and development and they can choose from a variety or better still, have it all. It cannot be the home part since the Mara has plenty of trees and it definitely isn’t the fact that they may enjoy our polluted air and water too.
The growth and development in our cities has therefore encouraged the Marabou to coexist with us. Especially since we offer a wide food range for them with the amount of waste food we throw away. This guys will even eat shoes (textiles) and metal indicating how strong there stomach acids are.
Although birds, being ecological indicators, will flee from any sort of pollution, this birds and other town birds (Those discussed and yet to be discussed), they choose to stay and coexist with humans in an environment that is slowly turning into a concrete jungle.
The Marabou may have found a home in our cities but some still go back to the Mara/Serengeti to enrich themselves with nutrients specifically found there. Like elephants, it seems this birds still remember their way back home.
In their normal environment, you will find them feeding on carrion, blood and feaces after vultures have had finished with the carcass although, due to its ill-temper the vultures will on some occasions give way to the marabous.