Being entirely gray the Shoebill is easily recognized, even without its most distinguishable feature which gives it its name – a bill that resembles a hook-tipped Dutch clog . The head is large in proportion to the body, and the many-colored bill is wide and thick, The hooked bill is 8 – 12 inches (20 – 25 cm) long, 4 – 5 inches (10 – 13 cm) wide and has cutting edges. It has yellow eyes and extremely long toes. Males and females have similar coloration with small crest or white tufts sticking out from the back of the head. The tail is rounded. The tan beak often has dark spots. The legs are skinny and long, like the legs of most wading birds; feet are unwebbed.
Long thought to belong to a family all its own, this unique-looking, rather nocturnal bird has been reclassified as a member of the heron family. Dwelling in mangrove swamps from Mexico down to Peru and Brazil, it uses its strange beak to advantage, consuming a broad range of small animals. It thrives and breeds well in captivity, including the DWA.
Specializing in crayfish, crabs, and other crustaceans, this small heron has gourmet tastes. Once considered a rather tropical bird, it has expanded its North American range in recent years to the north and west. It is also found throughout Central and South America. It has nested repeatedly in this exhibit, performing courtship displays and raising chicks.