Description: The word “jabiru” was derived from the South American Indian word “yabiru”, which means “blown out by the wind”. This name refers to the loose, brilliant red skin of the lower neck, which becomes inflated during danger, anger or courtship. The Jabiru is an all-white, tall stork with a massive, slightly upturned bill. This is the only stork with all white flight feathers (both primaries and secondaries), including wings and tail. The black head and neck are bare-skinned except for the gray tuft of feathers on the back of the crown. The neck skin is silky and very smooth. A small patch of bare skin can sometimes be seen on the chest if the Jabiru is standing very erect, taking off, in flight or displaying. The feet and legs are black and the iris is brown. Molting results in a beautiful white plumage in the breeding season. The sexes have similar plumage, but females are slightly smaller, with more upturned and thinner bills.
Size: Jabirus stand 47-59 inches (119-150 cm) tall. The wingspan is the second longest of any New World bird – almost eight feet (2.4 m). The longest wingspan is that of the Andean condor (Vultur gryphus).
Behavior: The enormous wings of the Jabiru aid in flying. They are graceful fliers that fly with legs and neck extended. Wing structure indicates that the Jabiru is a gliding bird, preferring to use rising air currents or strong frontal winds to gain height and then glide gently in the desired direction. They quickly become airborne when lifting off from the top of tall trees, however, on the ground, a running start is necessary for take-off. Jabirus eat while
standing or walking slowly. The neck is extended and the long bill pointed downward. They stab at food they can see and probe for things they cannot see, such as buried eels.
Diet: Jabirus feed primarily on fish and eels but will also eat insects, snails, mussels, crabs, frogs, small mammals and snakes.
Senses: They rely on vision for hunting, but also probe with their long beaks for things they can not see.
Communication: Jabirus are generally considered “voiceless”, however, a coughing sound has been heard during their up-down head motions used in greeting displays and copulation. Loud bill clatters can be heard during displays and when frightened. Fledglings are also quite vocal when wanting to be fed.
Reproduction: Jabirus nest singly in broad-leaved trees, away from other Jabirus. Jabirus, both adult and young, defecate onto their legs to reduce heat loss by evaporation. This natural cement-like liquid also makes the nests firm and sturdy. The large nest is made of sticks and is built in the fork of a towering tree. Large, flat nests, up to six feet (1.8 m) across and ranging from one to five feet (0.3-1.5 m) deep, are made of big branches woven together with smaller twigs and lined with grass. Water is transported by the male and allowed to drip from its half-opened bill, apparently to soften the platform material and enable it to be reworked. The structure and consolidation of materials in the center of the nest make it quite safe for the adult bird to stand when caring for the young. These nests are also used by other animals – beehives and cylindrical-shaped nests are often attached to the huge structures. Nests are often reused for several years, with the fine material providing lining being replaced every year. Jabirus nest from the latter part of the rainy season into the dry season. Sticks for the nests are usually gathered by the male and positioned in place by both birds. Both parents incubate the eggs and feed the hatchlings, as well as defend the nest while in use. Three to five dirty white eggs are laid. Incubation is between 28-32 days. Initially the chicks are unable to stand, and although they have a powerful beak, they cannot effectively defend themselves. They are protected by their parents until they are able to stand up and are strong enough to defend themselves. After this stage, parents leave the hatchlings alone while hunting for food, returning at various intervals to feed them. It is believed that parents do not sleep in the nests after the hatchlings are able to stand. Both parents stand at the edge of the nest and regurgitate food onto the floor of the nest rather than directly into the fledgling’s bill. Any food discarded or not eaten by the young is eaten by the adult, keeping the nest clean. Water is also provided to the young. The fledgling period is believed to be approximately 110 days. Hatchlings are covered with white down and, as the juvenile develops, the down becomes grayish in color, mixed with yellowish tinges. The beaks are straight. Juveniles develop white plumage during the first two years.
Habitat/range: Jabirus are found in southern Mexico and south into tropical South America, east of the Andes. They are usually non-migratory in South America, but those that live in the northern ranges of Mexico migrate south toward Belize and stay from November to June. They prefer shallow marshes, wet meadows, rivers, ponds and pastures, both inland and along the coast.
Although they are birds of open country, they prefer nearby wooded areas for nesting and roosting.
Status: Listed as a CITES Appendix I species and categorized as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List. They are also protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.