Mycteria leucocephalapainted stork

Geographic Range

Painted storks are widespread throughout the Indian subcontinent. Populations extend from Sri Lanka to Indochina and southern China. Painted storks are predominately non-migratory and most make only local movements. However some birds have been known to migrate to west Burma. (Austin, 1961; Luthin, 1987)


Painted storks are found within a variety of habitats. They are often restricted to shallow freshwater wetlands and marshes. Painted storks have also been observed in flooded agricultural fields and seepage ponds in the Delhi region of India. (Austin, 1961; Kalam and Urfi, 2007)

Physical Description

This species of stork stands 93 to 102 cm tall and weighs between 2 to 5 kg. Painted storks are the only storks within the genus Mycteria that has a black pectoral band. This species has a long, heavy yellow bill and a yellow face. They display white plumage with a rose color near the tail feathers. Non-breeding plumage is usually less vibrant than breeding plumage. Juveniles are pale brown lacking a pectoral band. Males and females are not sexually dimorphic however, male painted storks tend to be slightly larger than female storks. Body length in this species is used as an indicator of sex. (Ali and Ripley, 1968; Austin, 1961; Urfi and Kalam, 2006)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    2 to 5 kg
    4.41 to 11.01 lb
  • Range length
    93 to 102 cm
    36.61 to 40.16 in


Painted storks are a monogamous species. Little is known about mate selection however, there is evidence that females prefer to mate with relatively large males. (Urfi and Kalam, 2006)

The breeding season begins in late August in northern India lasts until October. However, in the south the breeding starts much later in November and lasts until March. The breeding season occurs after monsoon season, greatly reducing the risk of nest failure. Painted storks are colonial tree nesting birds, nesting in 5 to 6 trees with often 70 to 100 nests. The New World mesquite trees (Prosopis juliflora) are chiefly utilized by painted storks in the Delhi region as colonial nesting trees. (Austin, 1961; Urfi, 1993)

Mycteria leucocephala is a colonial nester. Several thousand pairs have been known to nest in rookeries. Nests are constructed with plant matter and extend over the water. Painted storks lay 3 to 4 eggs with an incubation period of about 30 days. Chicks fledge at 60 days with a whitish plumage which later becomes pale brown as they age. (Ali and Ripley, 1968; Austin, 1961)

  • Breeding interval
    Painted storks breed once a year.
  • Breeding season
    Painted storks breed from August to October (nothern India) or November to March (southern India).
  • Range eggs per season
    3 to 4
  • Average time to hatching
    30 days
  • Average fledging age
    60 days

Both male and female painted storks share responsibilities when incubating and raising young. The young are born altricial, without feathers and with eyes closed. Each parent will take turns feeding nestlings until they fledge. (Ali and Ripley, 1968; Urfi and Kalam, 2006)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • male parental care
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female


Painted storks can live up to 28 years in captivity. (Austin, 1961)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    28 (high) years


Painted storks are colonial nesters and can often be found in large flocks of up to two hundred individuals. Flock sizes tend not to alter seasonally in this species. Painted storks forage in groups ranging from 1 to 18 individuals at a time. They are generally non-migratory and thus most stay in the same area. These birds often nest with other water birds such as herons and egrets. They are also often seen soaring in thermals with other stork-like birds. (Ali and Ripley, 1968; Grewal, et al., 2002; Kalam and Urfi, 2007; Sundar, 2006; Ali and Ripley, 1968; Grewal, et al., 2002; Kalam and Urfi, 2007; Sundar, 2006)

Communication and Perception

Painted storks are voiceless and the only sound they produce bill-clattering at the nest. Like all birds, they perceive their environment through visual, auditory, tactile, and chemical stimuli. (Grewal, et al., 2002)

Food Habits

Painted storks have been known to feed on fish, insects, crustaceans, amphibians and reptiles. Painted storks in the Delhi region have been observed to be largely piscivorous. In order to catch their prey, storks employ a mode of foraging known as tactile foraging. Tactile foraging involves a bird holding its open beak underwater and waiting for movement near the bill before clamping shut on the prey. Foraging group size ranges from 1 to 18 individuals. Nestlings are fed by adults via regurgitation. (Kahl, 1987; Kalam and Urfi, 2007)

  • Animal Foods
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • fish
  • aquatic crustaceans


Painted storks are predated by tigers (Panthera tigris), leopards (Panthera pardus), hyenas (Hyaenidae), crocodiles (Crocodylidae), and eagles (Accipitridae). Predation is most significant during the breeding season when eggs and defenseless chicks are available. As a method of defense, chicks will vomit and lie motionless to appear dead.

Humans are another common predator of painted storks. Fisherman in local villages capture chicks and sell them to animal collectors. Storks are also collected for food in rural villages. (Austin, 1961; Luthin, 1987)

Ecosystem Roles

There is little information on painted storks and the roles they play in an ecosystem. As the primary food sources, fish populations are likely impacted by storks. Painted stork chicks and eggs are also food sources for predators. (Luthin, 1987)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Chicks are often captured and sold by local fisherman to animal collectors. Painted stork young are collected by local people for food. (Austin, 1961; Luthin, 1987)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known negative effects of painted storks on humans.

Conservation Status

Painted storks have been classified as near threatened by the IUCN Red list of Threatened species and their population continues to decline throughout southern and southeast China. In recent years they have faced local extirpation in southern China where they are often confronted with local exploitation. Intensification of agriculture and commercial fish farms are contributing to loss of habitat and food resources. Wetland preservation is an important factor in sustaining populations in developing agricultural regions to maintain adequate feeding grounds as well as nesting colonies. (Kalam and Urfi, 2007; Khan, 1987; Luthin, 1987; Sundar, 2006)


Aubrey Sirman (author), Florida State University, Emily DuVal (editor), Florida State University, Rachelle Sterling (editor), Special Projects.



uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.


used loosely to describe any group of organisms living together or in close proximity to each other - for example nesting shorebirds that live in large colonies. More specifically refers to a group of organisms in which members act as specialized subunits (a continuous, modular society) - as in clonal organisms.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


mainly lives in water that is not salty.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


an animal that mainly eats fish


Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

saltwater or marine

mainly lives in oceans, seas, or other bodies of salt water.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate


Living on the ground.


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


uses sight to communicate


2009. "IUCN Red List of Threatened Species" (On-line). IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed February 11, 2010 at

Ali, S., S. Ripley. 1968. Handbook of the Birds of Indea and Pakistan, together with those of Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and Ceylon. Bombay: Oxford University Press.

Austin, O. 1961. Birds of the World; A Survey of the Twenty-Seven Orders and One Hundred and Fifty-Five Families. New York: Golden PRess.

Grewal, B., B. Harvey, O. Pfister. 2002. A Photographic Guide to the Birds of India: and the Indian Subcontinent, Including Pakistan, Nepal, Nhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka & the Maldives. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Kahl, P. 1987. An Overview of Storks of the World. Colonial Waterbirds, 10(2): 131-134.

Kalam, A., A. Urfi. 2007. Foraging Behavior and Prey Size in Painted Storks. Journal of Zoology, 274(2008): 198-204.

Khan, M. 1987. Conservation of Storks and Other Waterbirds in Bangladesh. Colonial Waterbirds, 10(2): 299-235.

Luthin, C. 1987. Status of and Conservation Priorities for the World's Stork Species. Colonial Waterbirds, 10(2): 181-202.

Sundar, K. 2006. Flock size, Density and Habitat Selection of Four Large Waterbirds Species in an Agricultural Landscape in Uttar Pradesh, India:Implications for Management. Waterbirds, 29(3): 365-374.

Urfi, A. 1993. Breeding patterns of Painted Storks (Mycteria leucocephala Pennant) at Delhi Zoo, India. Colonial Waterbirds, 16: 95-97.

Urfi, A., A. Kalam. 2006. Sexual Size Dimorphism and Mating Pattern in the Painted Stork (Mycteria leucocephala). Waterbirds, 29: 489-496.