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We like birds. We’re not “birders” by any means, but we do enjoy finding new birds and watching old friends. I think we both find the variety and behavior of birds endlessly interesting. I also take pure, aesthetic pleasure in them. Many are, quite simply, beautiful.

The Marabou stork is not one of those. He is, not to put too fine a point on it, ugly. In fact, the first sentence in our Audubon book under their entry is “an enormous, ugly bird” (emphasis in the original). It goes on to say that they frequent dumps, slaughterhouses, and fishing villages savaging for scraps and eating carrion. The sole nice thing the book says is that their wingspan is only exceeded by the two condors and the largest albatross. Considering that our Audubon guide is fairly liberal in editorializing (they call the Bateleur “the world’s most attractive raptor” and claim that the Gabon viper is “good natured and…prefers not to bite people”) this description of the poor Marabou stork stands out. 

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Camping on Lake Nabugabo in Uganda, we awoke to a pair perched in the nearby trees. I hurried for the camera to catch them before they flew off but I shouldn’t have worried. These two knew what was what. They spent the morning stalking around the site, scavenging for breakfast. At one point, as we ate our toast, one was within five feet of us. 

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Up close, they are a lot less ugly. In fact, there is a quiet, patient dignity about them. This started to make sense when I looked them up after. The name Marabou comes from the Arabic Marabou, which means a Muslim holy man or hermit, taken from the original murabi, which means “warrior saint”. They do look like warrior saints/hermits. There is something apart, silently watchful, about them. We’ve had too many amazing experiences to count on this trip, but breakfast with storks ranks right up there.

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Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. 

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