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This stork stands up to 5 feet tall, has an average wingspan of 8 feet, and weighs up to 18 pounds. The upturned bill is black and broad, and is about 12 inches long. Males are larger than females and have a larger, straighter bill.
The plumage is white. The head and neck are featherless, and there is a silver tuft of "hair" on top of the head. Both sexes have a band of skin around the lower portion of the neck that is normally deep pink in color, but which can turn a deep scarlet color when the bird is irritated. There is also a featherless red pouch at the base of the neck that becomes more prominent when the bird is in flight. The legs and feet are black.
Distribution and Habitat
Jabirus are found from southern Mexico to northern Argentina, including the islands of Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago, with small flocks occasionally being seen as far north as southern Texas. Like most other storks, the jabiru prefers rivers and ponds, as well as open wetlands and freshwater marshes.
Jabirus do not migrate, but they do move within fairly large ranges.
Jabirus consume large amounts of fish, mollusks, insects, and amphibians, as well as the occasional reptile and small mammal. In drier conditions they may also consume dead fish and carrion. They forage by wading in shallow water, with the open bill held at a 45 degree angle to the water. When prey is contacted the bird closes its bill, withdraws it from the water, and then throws its head back to swallow.
The breeding season generally begins in December, just after the rainy season ends, and runs into May. The male will establish himself at a nest site and then attempt to attract females by a wing-flapping courtship display. Interestingly enough, however, the male will usually reject the majority of females that approach him. It is not known by what criteria he chooses his specific mate.
Both sexes participate in building the nest, which is typically built in the top of a tall, fairly isolated tree. The nest itself is made of sticks and woody debris and can be up to 3 feet wide and 4 feet deep.
Two to five eggs are incubated by both parents for up to 3 months. The chicks fledge at about 100 days, but remain dependent on their parents for a short time thereafter. Because of the long period of time required to incubate the eggs and care for the chicks, most breeding pairs only reproduce every other year.
Jabirus can live up to 30 years in the wild.
Other Habits and Behaviors
As are most other species of storks, jabirus are very social birds and are almost always seen in large flocks. Although they usually feed and move as a group, strong territoriality is exhibited near specific nesting and feeding areas.
Jabirus are most active during the day, but "active" may be somewhat of a misnomer. They are fairly slow fliers, averaging only about 180 wing flaps per minute, and walk quite slowly and methodically. Once in flight a jabiru is a fairly graceful looking bird, but it often takes two or three jumps for the bird to gain enough momentum to actually get in the air.
Jabirus are not vocal birds, but they do communicate with each other through a variety of visual displays.
Although endangered throughout its range, the jabiru population has remained fairly stable over the last several decades. It has been protected by law in Belize since 1973, and, though not native to the United States, is also covered by the U.S. Migratory Bird Act.
This page was last updated on January 18, 2017.