We only have one species of stork in Australia and this is the Black-necked stork. Its more common name, Jabiru, is not an Aboriginal word; it is derived from the Amazonian Indian word zabiru which describes a South American stork species which resembles its Australian relative.
The Jabiru is the largest wading bird in Australia; it stands up to 1.5 metres tall, can weigh over 4 kilograms, and may have a wingspan in excess of 2 metres. It has long red legs and a thick black bill that it uses to forage in shallow water for molluscs, fish, eels, crustaceans, insects, reptiles, frogs and plants. The tail and wing stripe are glossy black, the body and remainder of the wings are white, the most striking plumage is on the neck and head, where the dark iridescent feathers shine with a stunning mix of vivid green, blue, black and purple. The males have dark eyes; the female's eyes are yellow.
These birds live in a variety of waterways – wetlands, floodplains, rivers, water holes, billabongs, mudflats and mangroves in northern and eastern Australia. It was formerly believed that these birds were nomadic or migratory, but further studies indicate that they move within their territory which is an extremely large area. Jabirus are usually observed alone, in pairs or small bonded family groups.
Couples pair for life and share nest building and chick rearing duties. They build a large nest of sticks, hidden high in a tall tree beside a waterway. Breeding season occurs March to October, 2 to 4 eggs are laid but only one chick usually survives.
It was thought that Jabirus were mute, however they can actually make a deep booming call. Usually they are silent and use the noises of clapping and clattering their beak to communicate.
They are impressive birds both on the ground and in the air. They fly straight with their long neck and legs extended and use thermals to ascend to great heights then soar majestically hundreds of metres above the ground.
These beautiful birds were once plentiful in the wetlands of eastern and northern Australia, but their numbers have declined dramatically and they are now extinct in much of their original range. Much of their wetland habitat has been drained, polluted and modified by industry, development, agriculture and mining. Jabirus require large nesting trees close to waterways; often these have been cleared and so reduce the available nesting sites for these birds. In addition because of their large size and wingspan they can often collide with power lines.
We are fortunate to still, very occasionally, see this species in local wetlands. They are shy birds which are very easily disturbed, so it is kinder to observe and admire this spectacular bird species from a distance.