The woolly-necked stork or whitenecked stork (Ciconia episcopus) is a large wading bird in the stork family Ciconiidae. It breeds singly, or in small loose colonies. It is distributed in a wide variety of habitats including marshes in forests, agricultural areas, and freshwater wetlands.
The woolly-necked stork is a medium-sized stork at 75–92 cm tall. The iris is deep crimson or wine-red. The stork is glistening black overall with a black "skull cap", a downy white neck which gives it its name. The lower belly and under-tail coverts are white, standing out from the rest of the dark coloured plumage. Feathers on the fore-neck are iridescent with a coppery-purple tinge. These feathers are elongated and can be erected during displays. The tail is deeply forked and is white, usually covered by the black long under tail coverts. It has long red legs and a heavy, blackish bill, though some specimens have largely dark-red bills with only the basal one-third being black. Sexes are alike. Juvenile birds are duller versions of the adult with a feathered forehead that is sometimes streaked black-and-white.(3) The African birds are described as having the edges of the black cap diffused or with a jagged border compared to a sharp and clean border in the Asian birds. Sexes are identical, though males are thought to be larger. When the wings are opened either during displays or for flight, a narrow band of very bright unfeathered skin is visible along the underside of the forearm. This band has been variously described as being "neon, orange-red", "like a red-gold jewel", and "almost glowing" when seen at close range.
Small nestlings are pale grey with buffy down on the neck, and a black crown. At fledging age, the immature bird is identical to the adult except for a feathered forehead, much lesser iridescence on feathers, and much longer and fluffier feathers on the neck.
English common names for this species include Whitenecked Stork, Whiteheaded Stork, Bishop Stork, and the Parson-bird. More recently, the African and Asian populations are considered to be two different species, the African and the Asian Woolly-neck. This is based purely on geographical isolation, but there is no morphological or phylogenetic evidence yet to support this split.
It is a widespread tropical species which breeds in Asia, from India to Indonesia, and throughout Africa. It is a resident breeder in wetlands with trees. They use a variety of freshwater wetlands including seasonal and perennial reservoirs and marshes, crop lands, irrigation canals and rivers. They are attracted to fires in grasslands and crop fields where they capture insects trying to escape the fire. They use ponds and marshes inside forests in both Africa and Asia, especially in south-east Asia where they use grassy and marshy areas in clearings in evergreen rainforests. In India, they are an uncommon species in coastal habitats. They use coastal areas in Africa also, with birds in Sulawasi observed to be eating sea snakes, and birds on the Kenya coast foraging in coral reefs and mudflats. In an agricultural landscape in north India, woolly-necked storks preferred fallow fields during the summer and monsoon seasons, and natural freshwater wetlands during the winter. Here, irrigation canals were preferentially used during winters when water levels were low, and birds avoided crop fields in all seasons. Assisted by construction of new irrigation canals, this species is spreading to arid areas like the Thar Desert in Rajasthan, India.
Individuals of this species have been sighted at altitudes of 3,790 m above sea level in China (Napahai wetland), and 3,540 m above sea level in Nepal (Annapurna Conservation Area)
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