11 December 2010 by Julienne du Toit

Marabou Stalker

No one ever seems to talk about marabou storks. No wait, pilots talk about them - they’re an everlasting hazard over game reserve runways.

Like tatty airborne undertakers on vacation, they drift through the air on the lookout for carcasses to plunder down below, ever a hazard for an unwary Cessna pilot. Sometimes, when a gang of marabous finds a suitable thermal, they will just hang out up there like a bunch of scabrous circuit court judges.

Apart from that, I know of no one who has had an untoward experience with a marabou stork - except my husband Chris.

We’re at a giant bird aviary near Pilanesberg in the North West Province. There’s a grumpy marabou stork stumping about the area. His wing broken on a powerline, this bird is settling in for a long quiet retirement with steady meals.

Unable to resist the stork’s extraordinary ugliness, my husband starts taking pictures. He gets closer and closer. The marabou narrows his eyes speculatively.

Suddenly an invisible line is crossed. The stork draws himself up to his full length, starts clattering his beak like a Spanish dancer with castanets, and charges.

Chris, startled at finding a wrathful marabou eye suddenly full frame in his view-finder, stumbles backwards. The stork chases him thirty metres or so before stopping to peevishly groom his disheveled feathers.

“Do it again,” a nearby German tourist yells at both Chris and the stork as he fiddles frantically with his video camera. “Let me just change batteries so I can film it properly this time.”

But his wish is not granted. Both husband and big bird stride off in different directions, their feathers totally ruffled…

Category: Wildlife

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