Friday, October 28, 2022

Birdtober Day Twenty-Nine: Shoebill



Photo Source:, Mamamba Swamp Shoebill Bird Watching

Last year, the Birdtober prompts allowed for an Artist's Choice day every week. This year, there's just one in the whole month. Such pressure to decide which bird to honor with this one day of promptlessness! I thought a lot about which one to choose, and I had almost settled on the Hadada Ibis, the most common soundtrack of my days here in Uganda. But then, on our October break from school, I had the incredible experience of taking a boat ride across Lake Victoria and into the Mamamba Swamp, one of the best remaining places to see the Shoebills. So of course, this amazing and vulnerable bird must be my Artist's Choice topic.

The photo above is from the Tripadvisor site for our guide's company, and below you'll see some of my own far inferior photos (taken with my phone), plus a National Geographic video showing what we saw: a Shoebill catching, killing and gulping down a lungfish. There are only three to five thousand of these birds left in the wild. As huge and strong as they are, they aren't vulnerable to predators (except that they only lay one egg at a time, and sometimes the egg is eaten by a monitor lizard or a python). The danger they face is habitat loss. Right now there is a chick, almost four months old, and the last photo below shows the chick. We watched the adult and chick together for a long time. (In my poem I imagine that the adult we saw eating the lungfish was the mother, but we really don't know. We might have seen only one adult or we might have seen two. When we saw two together it was an adult and a baby, but both parents participate in caring for the offspring, so we don't know for sure.)

In the primeval swamp,
the Shoebill
stares into the water,
in no hurry.
Suddenly, her head
snaps up.
She has a three-foot long
in her bill,
and he
is not reconciled
to his fate.
He fights back,
and it looks as though
he might get away,
but then,
in one gulp,
he is gone.


In the primeval swamp,
we stare at the Shoebill,
in no hurry.
She doesn’t seem
to notice us,
as she eats her breakfast,
or as she feeds a fish
to her chick,
or as she spreads
her enormous wings
and flies away.
She has things to do.
But we notice her,
as we sit in our boat
surrounded by water lilies.
She is what we are here for.
We want to see her
she is gone.


©Ruth Bowen Hersey

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