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Kidadl Team

SEPTEMBER 02, 2021

African Openbill: 17 Facts You Won’t Believe

Discover interesting African openbill facts.

The African openbill, also known as the Bec-ouvert Africain or the Afrikaanse Gaper, is a medium-sized dark stork species of the phylum Chordata, order Ciconiiformes, and genus Anastomus. They are native to a broad range of Saharan and Sub-Saharan Africa and South Africa, where they have their breeding season. Their plumage is dark black, but they have green, brownish-purple mantle and breast. They are a close cousin to a bird in the same genus, the Asian openbill, and both species have a distinct bill for different feeding techniques. They like to eat aquatic snails and large insects. They even eat mudwater snails. Both males and females have similar looks but the male is larger in size than the female. The juveniles have pale feather tips with no gap. Their flying speed is slow compared to other birds of the same family. They have some matching characteristics with waterbirds but their long neck and feet separate them from a former species.

Have an interest in birds and want to know about more of them? Here you can know some amazing facts about oriental stork and wood stork.

African Openbill Interesting Facts

What type of animal is an African openbill?

The African openbill is a type of medium-sized bird with unusually long legs and necks.

What class of animal does an African openbill belong to?

This bird belongs to the kingdom Animalia, genus Anastomas, and the family Ciconiidae. They are dark-colored waterbirds with a shiny green-purplish plumage. Their scientific name is Anastomus Lameliigerus.

How many African openbills are there in the world?

The exact number of African openbills is not known yet. They are not endemic to any country but their population trend has been decreasing over the past few years due to increased human intervention in their habitat.

Where does an African openbill live?

The Bec-ouvert Africain lives in wetlands and savannahs in colonies. Their distribution range is very wide in countries of Africa like Mozambique, Senegal, south Niger, Sudan, Botswana, Malawi, Liberia, Burundi, Chad, Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Benin, Angola, Rwanda, Somalia, Madagascar, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Mali, South Africa, Cameroon, Zambia, the Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mauritania, Eritrea, Equatorial  Guinea, Nigeria, Togo, Gabon, south Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Namibia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic.

What is the African openbill's habitat?

These birds are majorly birds of water that live in small colonies and their distribution is near those areas where they can also find their prey easily. The African openbill mainly inhabits freshwater wetlands, marshes, swamps, lakes, and rivers, still water bodies like ponds, ricefields, burnt grasslands, flooded plains, savannahs, mudflats, streams, and lagoons in Africa where they can find snails and a good breeding ground.

Who does the African openbill live with?

These birds show both gregarious and egregious nature when it comes to their social behavior. Many a time, if you go birdwatching in one of these African countries, you can see them feeding in small groups near a water body or digging mud with their long bill in small groups.  During the breeding seasons, they are extra gregarious and can be seen in small colonies.

How long does an African openbill live?

The lifespan of this stork bird can range between five to seven years. One bird was recorded with a lifespan of seven years, but that bird was kept in captivity.

How do they reproduce?

African openbills have their breeding season just before or after the rainy season, between August and May, because at this time, they can get good access to their standard diet of snails. They perform displays and greeting displays for their partners to strengthen the pair bond. They frequently copulate during the nest building. They nest in small colonies with many pairs preferred near water in the trees and reedbeds. The width of the nest is about 19.6 in (50 cm) and is made of sticks, grasses, leaves, and mud to protect the nest. The female openbill lays a clutch of three to four white eggs and both the parents incubate the eggs. Incubation lasts for around 25-30 days in the nest. These birds take snails to their nest during the nesting period to feed the young babies. The chicks have pale feather tips. They fledge for about 50-55 days after hatching.

What is their conservation status?

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Lamelligerus African openbill is under the category of a Least Concern species on the Red list.

African Openbill Fun Facts

What does the African openbill look like?

Their plumage is black and glossy green-brown breast. They have a large and long bill which is brown in color and looks paler towards the base. Their eyes are very colorful and are blue or gray in color with  an eye-ring inside. Their bill has a gap of about 0.2-0.23 in (5-6 mm) between both the mandibles. Their special ability to eat a mollusk very efficiently comes from its upper mandible which has many small columnar pads to help them to get a good grip and extract the aquatic mollusk. Other than their long bill, they are also famous for their long and dark black legs. The immatures are browner with pale feather tips. Their bill is very straight but does not have a gap between the mandibles.

African openbills get freshwater mussels, frogs, crabs, and snails when they hunt in the water.

How cute are they?

No, they are not cute. Though they have a shiny or glittery green-purple plumage during the golden hour, because of their all-black body and long bill, they cannot be considered pretty.

How do they communicate?

Not much information is available about how these birds communicate, but the very close species of the Asian openbill communicate by sight and touch. These birds are mute, just like many other stokes. Due to their minimal vocalization, their calls are often termed as a mournful ‘hoo’. Similar to Asian openbills, they also use bill-clattering to interact with their mates.  

How big is an African openbill?

The Bec-ouvert Africain belongs to the Aves class and is 31.4-37 in (80 -94 cm) long.  The largest bird in the stork species is the Marabou stork which is nearly two times larger than this species of the Afrikaanse Gaper.

How fast can an African openbill fly?

The Lamelligerus African openbill sustains their flapping during migrations. They use the warm currents, which are also thermals, for long-distance flight as the warm currents give a push to achieve efficient flying. Both the head and the neck are outstretched during their flight and with the use of their well-adapted broad and long wings, they soar well.

How much does an African openbill weigh?

The Bec-ouvert Africain of freshwater weighs around 2.2-2.9 lb (1-1.3 kg). The largest bill bird in the world is the Australian pelican and has a bill of a size range of 13-18 in (34-47 cm) in length and is much larger than the average African openbill size.

What are the male and female names of the species?

There are no specific names given to the male and female of this bird.

What would you call a baby African openbill?

The baby of this species of Lamelligerus African Openbill is called a chick, like the other species of birds  in the stork family They fledge for about 50-55 days after hatching and the parents have to do an incubation period for 25-30 days.

What do they eat?

The African openbill is a carnivore and has freshwater creatures in its diet. For feeding, they prefer freshwater aquatic snails of the hard operculum, freshwater mussels, frogs, crabs, worms,  beetles, fish, locusts, and large insects. Their bill is designed in a way that makes it easy for them to extract mollusks from their shells.

Are they dangerous?

Yes, these glossy green-brown Afrikaanse Gapers can be dangerous to human beings. Their unusually long bill and 31.4-37 in (80-94 cm) long body with long legs can easily become a cause for injury as soon as you go near them during birdwatching.

Would they make a good pet?

No, this stork species needs to be in the wetlands and water bodies to grow normally with normal feeding habits. Also, their chicks take 55 days to fledge. Their long bill with huge gap could create chaos for you if you keep one as a pet!

Did you know...

They can be seen sitting on the back of the water mammal, the hippopotamus, while it is grazing to catch snails which come to the surface of the water during that time.

They eat snails and mollusks so much that you can see piles of shells around their feeding sites as they come back again and again to the same place.

The Afrikaanse Gaper produces bill-clattering during the mating displays, like the other species of the Ciconiidae family.

Does the African openbill migrate?

The African openbill does not migrate frequently or in a pattern. They are resident birds, however this bir may migrate and show nomadic behavior. They move in small flocks away from arid regions during summer like the other birds living in South Africa.

Where is the African openbill native to?

These birds are native to the southern continent of Africa. Their native habitat can be seen around the Sub-Saharan regions and South Africa where they go during the breeding season and make their nests.  

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! For more relatable content, check out these stork facts and white stork facts for kids.

You can even occupy yourself at home by coloring in one of our free printable African openbill coloring pages.

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