Sunday 25 September 2016


Image: Francisco Severo Neto
Jabiru mycteria
It's a well known fact that roughly 50% of all babies are delivered by stork. Originally a failed attempt to reduce nepotism, the practise continues due to its efficiency, cost effectiveness, and the fact that storks are both great believers in tradition and surprisingly quick to violence when roused.

Some of them have extremely pointy beaks, you know.

Image: David Schenfeld
Take, for example the Jabiru. It's huge! A large male can be as much as 1.5 metres (5 feet) tall! Their wingspan some 2.3 to 2.8 metres (8 or 9 feet) across! Their sharp, slightly upturned bill up to 30 cm (a foot) long!

It's difficult to argue with a beak like that.

Image: Bernard DUPONT
Jabirus are found in wetlands from Mexico to Argentina where they hang out in groups and eat lots and lots of fish, molluscs and amphibians, as well as a few reptiles, mammals and eggs. Also fish carcasses, on occasion. So that's everything then.

Gotta love those carnivores who's concept of major food groups is: animal with fins, animal with shell and animal with legs.

Video: iati88
They like to eat fish. Eventually.

Jabirus need to eat a lot because they're big. They're the tallest flying birds in South and Central America. Tall birds (who fly) need big wings to fly with, so the Jabiru has the second biggest wingspan in the Americas after the Andean Condor. Sometimes a gigantic albatross wanders in from the chilly south to show off their even bigger wingspan but we don't like to talk about them. They WANT us to talk about them. So we don't.

Darn tourists, coming over here...

Image: Edwin Harvey
There are some other storks out there that get called 'Jabiru', including one from Australia, but only one of them is the sole species within the genus Jabiru. And that's this one.

The word means 'swollen neck', and joins other words like 'jaguar' and 'tapioca' in coming from one of South America's Tupi–Guarani languages. And boy is it accurate! Jabirus look like they've got a great, big frog in their throat, and who knows? Perhaps they do.

Image: Alastair Rae
At the base of this pouch is a large patch of pink skin. At least, it's usually pink. If a Jabiru gets angry, it turns a furious, deep scarlet. Redneck Alert!

Jabirus also use their necks to communicate in more pleasant circumstances, ie, when greeting their significant other.

Image: Johnny Villarreal
Males and females get together around August and September to build their nests. Do you know what kind of nests big birds need? What? What do you mean 'one with plenty of storage space'? No, big birds need big nests. And Jabiru nests can reach a metre (3.3 ft) across and almost twice as deep.

I guess tall birds need deep nests.

Image: David Schenfeld
Once the nest is built, with all its big sticks and tiddly twigs, 2 to 5 eggs are laid and the parents take turns on incubation duty while the other flies off to eat. When they trade places they say 'hello' by raising their heads high and rattling their beaks, all the while bobbing their heads up and down and waving their necks from side to side.

Basically they show off their swollen necks to best advantage and make them jiggle about wildly. It's ever so intimate.

The chicks require lots and lots of food and attention for the first month or so of life. Only after that can the parents fly off for some valuable 'me time' or 'us time' or 'neck jiggling time' and leave the young 'uns on their own for a while. Still, the chicks won't get their flying feathers until they're about 3 and a half months old and even then they're still dependant on their parents for another couple of months.

All in all, Jabirus take a good 6 months to breed, from constructing the nest to saying a tearful (if only from exhaustion) final farewell to their young. It's a lot of effort, and most Jabirus take the next year off and only breed every other year.

So it looks like little birds need big help before they can grow into big birds. I guess that makes sense. I mean, how long has Big Bird been learning the alphabet for, now?


TexWisGirl said...


elfinelvin said...

This is a very impressive creature. And I'm sure it would serve well in infant delivery. That up-turned bill is a real plus. But my heart will always belong to the Shoebill. :)

Joseph JG said...

@TexWisGirl: Definitely!

@elfinelvin: Hahaha! Gosh, I don't think I want to think about that too much! I'll look at the Shoebill's clog-face to take my mind of it.