Marabou Storks breeding in the Limpopo Province, The Lark 36

by Derek Engelbrecht

Marabou Stork has a widespread distribution in sub-Saharan Africa, with numbers estimated somewhere between 200 000 and 500 000 birds and increasing (Dodman and Diagana 2006). Its stronghold in southern Africa is centred around the Zambezi River Valley, the Okavango Delta, the Kruger National Park (Stalmans et al. 2020), but there are also substantial numbers on the Polokwane Plateau. Compared to the large breeding colonies of 1 000+ pairs in East Africa, nesting colonies in southern Africa are much smaller (Stalmans et al. 2020). Furthermore, Marabou Stork breeding has only occurred at 34 known localities in southern Africa: one in Swaziland, one in Botswana, 24 small colonies scattered over Zimbabwe (mainly in the Zambezi River Valley, Harare region and Gonarezhou in the south-eastern Lowveld), six in Namibia, a relatively large meta-population of 380 nests comprising five colonies in the greater Gorongosa region of Mozambique, and a small, recently established population of 5−12 pairs in the Phongola Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa (Brown and Peacock 2015; Simmons 2015; Stalmans et al. 2020). Although there are three historic records of breeding attempts in north-eastern South Africa, only one attempt, a nest in 1969, appears to have successfully fledged two young (Elwell 1970; Whyte et al. 1993).

The first Marabou Stork nest in the Limpopo Province in more than 50 years.

I was recently contacted by Ronald Wainwright, who notified me of two Marabou Stork nesting records on the Limpopo River between the Platjan and Pontdrift Border Posts in December 2020. According to Ronald, there were two nests; one on the Botswana side of the Limpopo River with two well-grown chicks and another nest on the South African side with a single, well-grown chick. These are the first breeding records for Marabou Storks in the Limpopo Province since 1969! Furthermore, it is also one of only two sites in South Africa where Marabou Storks are now known to have bred successfully.

It is interesting that these breeding records follow on the recent establishment of breeding populations of two other species with their traditional breeding strongholds in the region being in the Zambezi River System. Since 2016, African Skimmers bred successfully at various localities in the Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces in South Africa (Engelbrecht (2020), and McKenzie (2021) reported a breeding colony of Southern Carmine Bee-eaters near the Platjan

Border Post in the Limpopo River Valley. Are these birds the canaries in the coal mine? Only time will tell, but in the meantime, keep ’em peeled for African Pitta.

Acknowledgements A special word of thanks to Duncan McKenzie who encouraged Ronald Wainwright to report this interesting record.

Simmons RE. 2015. Marabou Stork Leptopti- los crumeniferus. In: Simmons RE, Brown CJ, Kemper J (eds), Birds to watch in Namibia: red, rare and endemic species. Windhoek: Ministry of Environment and Tourism ad and Namibia Nature Foundation. pp. 181−182. Stalmans M, Botha A, Scott T, Kaltenecker G, Monadjem A. 2020. Marabou Stork Lep- toptilos crumenifer breeding in the greater Gorongosa landscape, Mozambique. Ostrich 91: 338−342.