Marabou Storks are ugly/lovely. They have character. They are unmistakeable. I won’t expend too much energy trying to describe them… I’ll just let the pictures do the heavy lifting this week.

Marabou Storks are gigantic. Twelve feet tall at the shoulder! OK it’s more like five feet from head to toe, but they do have wingspans that approach 10 feet, which is getting into Andean Condor territory.

And they have hair! OK feathers, sure, but it looks like a wispy white afro that doesn’t stop at the neck. Lovely.

Why concentrate on festooning a head with glamorous feathers that will be tarnished when plunged into carcasses and garbage bins? Better to go with a low maintenance cut and get on with life. And just look at that face! They are just amazing.

When they turn around you get a sense of why they are sometimes referred to as the “undertaker bird.” They stroll around in their dark cloaks and come to collect the dead. Add that sense of impending doom to an atypical appearance and you get a bird that stirs strong emotions in people. I happen to love them. Just look at that green blooming underneath the black feathers.

They also frequent some beautiful places.

And some not so beautiful spots. Just like anywhere else, worlds collide. This bird knew the drill. It walked a long way to get to this garbage and began to remove it’s contents with a practiced precision. At a certain point I stopped being an observer and photographer and intervened. For one, I knew that someone would have to clean up the mess the bird was bound to make. But what actually snapped me out of documenter mode was disgust. This is a family site so I won’t mention the what it managed to extract from that bag of garbage. Suffice it to say these birds provide a great service to the savannah. They clean up and they do it well. But I don’t think they need to be eating our trash or cleaning up after us… even though they seem to relish the idea.

Written by Walter
Walter Kitundu is an artist and designer, instrument builder and bird photographer. As an artist he has created hand built record players powered by the wind and rain, fire and earthquakes, birds, light, and the force of ocean waves. Walter has performed and been in residence at art centers and science museums internationally. He has performed with the renowned Kronos Quartet, bassist Meshell Ndegeocello, the electronic music duo Matmos, and the legendary Marshall Allen - in venues from Carnegie Hall to a high school library in Egilstaadir, Iceland. In 2008 Walter became a MacArthur Fellow. Walter loves photographing birds and is an ongoing volunteer with the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory. He was hooked when a Red-tailed Hawk landed at his side, ate a caterpillar, then refused to leave. He is a Senior Design Developer for the Studio Gallery at the Exploratorium in San Francisco where he designs and builds environments for learning. You can see more of his work on his blog, Bird Light Wind.