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Shoebills - grey ghosts of the wetlands

Dr Ralf Mullers is pr
esenting his work on Shoebills in the Cape Union Mart/Wild Card series on Thursday August 14 at 18h30 (see for details). RSVP to (subject line: Shoebills) by 11 August if you would like to attend.

The presentation will start off with some general background information on the Bangweulu Wetlands in Zambia, Ralf's field site, and what is special about it. The Bangweulu not only has some interesting wildlife and amazing birds, but also houses a large population of fishermen and their families that depend on the productivity of the system. Ralf will then introduce the Shoebills, focusing first on their morphology, distribution and behaviour. Their strange look is an adaptation to life in the swamps and their preferred prey, catfish or lungfish. Having spent two years in the swamps, the team learned quite a bit about Shoebills, but mainly that they are hard to study. Nevertheless, Ralf and his team collected 170 hrs of observations on their foraging behaviour and 19 398 photographs from camera traps deployed at nest sites. Ralf will present some of the research findings on foraging and nesting behaviour and also some preliminary GPS data. Shoebills face several threats, like fires, disturbances and illegal live bird trade, and Bangweulu Wetlands implemented a unique conservation program. He will also present the Shoebill Nest Protection Program that involved the local communities in Shoebill protection.


Ralf has also recently written a "Field Guide to Shoebills" for the online Wild Travel Magazine.

Please report any sightings of ringed Swift Terns

Swift Terns are one of the few locally-breeding seabirds whose numbers are increasing., To help understand the main factors driving the positive trend of this species, a team of researchers from the Percy FitzPatrick Institute and the Animal Demography Unit at the University of Cape Town marked 500 Swift Tern chicks from Robben Island in April 2013 and 2014 with metal and individually engraved colour rings. In 2013, members of the public reported how these birds dispersed, providing information on the fledging success, survival and dispersal of juvenile Swift Terns, which were re-sighted from Namibia to the Eastern Cape. Gathering dispersal records is a time consuming but important task that relies on assistance from volunteers across southern Africa.

Rings in 2014 are orange and yellow (with black text) and green and blue (with white text), and are engraved with an A followed by a letter and a number (e.g. AU2). Rings from 2013 are yellow and white (with black text) and green and blue (with white text), and bear a code of one letter and one number (e.g. U2).  The majority of the colour rings are top-down and all are on the right leg.

If you see any ringed birds please record their location as accurately as possible (ideally GPS), the date and time of sighting, ring colour, letters on the ring (if legible) and age class (juvenile or immature). If a bird is found dead, please also record the number of the metal ring. Send the information to Davide Gaglio at

Thanks for your help!


Last modified: 2014/08/01
Copyright: Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology 2014
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