Whose Bird? - Number 1

Bey El-Arnaut Abdim

by Bruce Poulter

Recent checklists record that the family of Storks – Ciconiidae – comprises 17 species. Storks are primarily an Old World family, the greatest number of them occurring in tropical and sub-tropical regions of Africa and South-east Asia. No less than eight species are to be found in Africa south of the Sahara. The largest of these is the Saddle-billed Stork, which measures almost a metre and a half from bill tip to tail tip. The smallest is Abdim's Stork at just half that size.

The type specimen of Abdim's Stork – Ciconia abdimii – was collected in the Sudan in 1823. It was named after Bey El-Arnaut Abdim (1780-1827) who was a Turkish governor of Wadi Haifa in Sudan from 1821 to 1827. This governorship was in the early years of the Turco-Egyptian conquest of the Sudan, which lasted until 1885. Abdim was, it seems, of great assistance to the German naturalist and explorer Wilhelm Rueppell after whom no less than 13 species of birds and mammals are named. Did Rueppell name the stork after Abdim as recognition for the help he had been given?

Abdim's Stork features on five stamps, its 'best' representation probably being in the set of storks issued by Namibia in 1994. As illustrated, this stamp clearly shows the stork's black body; white underparts; grey legs with red knees and feet; grey bill and red facial skin in front of the eye. The blue skin near the bill indicates that this is a male bird in the breeding season. This illustration also indicates why the bird's alternative name is White-bellied Stork!

Of the 17 storks, only three are truly migratory – the Black, White and Abdim's. The latter is a trans-equatorial migrant in Africa, breeding north of the equator and migrating into the Southern Hemisphere during the northern dry season. This movement is nicely illustrated in the set of 'Migratory Birds' issued by Venda in 1983. It is interesting to note that Monaco chose Abdim's Stork as one of the species to illustrate the set of stamps, issued in 1991, to commemorate the hosting of the 'International Symposium on Bird Migration'.

The fourth stamp, issued by Congo (Kinshasa) in 1963, is labelled 'Cicogne a ventre blanc' – that is, a stork with a white belly. This underpins the bird's above-mentioned alternative name, which may have been in more common usage at that time.

The final stamp, issued by Namibia in 2003, shows Abdim's Stork flying over the Cuvelai Drainage System.

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