Painted stork -- 白头鹮鹳 (Mycteria leucocephala)

Painted stork head portrait
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Painted stork fact file

Painted stork description

GenusMycteria (1)

The painted stork (Mycteria leucocephala) is a large and fabulously colourful waterbird with a striking wing pattern. Although a drab brown when young, as an adult the painted stork displays primarily white plumage, with a bright pink tinge towards the tail and a black band of feathers across the chest. The broad wings appear striped black and white while folded, but when outstretched are almost entirely black apart from a white band in the centre (2) (3) (4) (5) (6).

The painted stork has a long, yellow-orange bill, a vivid yellow-orange face, and pink legs. This beautiful bird also has an incredibly long neck which, like most other storks, it holds outstretched during its elegant, soaring flight (2) (3) (4) (5) (6).

On first glance both the male and female painted stork look alike. However, the male tends to have a larger body and bill than the female (3) (4) (5) (6). Outside of the breeding season, the plumage, face and legs of the painted stork appear duller (2) (6).

Also known as
Indian wood stork, rosy wood ibis.
Tantalus leucocephalus.
Height: 93 - 102 cm (2)
2 - 3.5 kg (2)

Painted stork biology

The mating season of the painted stork usually coincides with the latter part of the rainy season (6), typically occurring from August to October in the north of its range and November to March in the south (4). During this time, the male chooses a nest site and defends a territory, using bill pecking to ward off the more persistent competition (4) (5) (8). The female then selects a male, favouring larger individuals (4). Courtship takes the form of an elaborate bowing ritual, and once a pair has formed, they construct the nest together (5) (6).

The painted stork is a colonial nester, so a single tree may end up being full of nests situated just 30 centimetres apart (5). The painted stork often returns to the breed in the same tree year after year (5), and often nests in mixed colonies with other waterbirds, such as storks, ibises and herons (6).

The nest of this species consists of a platform of sticks, lined with vegetation (6). The female painted stork lays between two and five eggs, which are incubated for around a month, with both the male and female taking turns at incubation (5) (6). Both sexes share responsibilities for feeding the young storks (4), whose diet, like that of the adults, is composed primarily of fish (6) (7). However, the adults do not feed the young live fish, but regurgitate partly digested food for them (5) (6).

The young painted stork is usually able to fly after about 60 to 70 days, but does not become independent until 85 days old, and may still return to the nest until about 115 days of age. This species is quite slow to mature, developing full adult plumage at about three years old and first breeding at about four years (6).

The painted stork is an efficient angler, typically foraging for fish in water up to 25 centimetres deep, although it has been known to venture deeper to obtain a meal (7). Either alone or in groups, the painted stork often uses its feet to dislodge prey hidden amongst plants or buried in mud. It typically feeds by walking slowly in shallow water with the bill partly open, groping for prey (6) (7). Although it often forages during daylight, the painted stork may resort to foraging at night in areas with a high level of human disturbance during the day (9). In addition to fish, the painted stork has also been seen to take reptiles, frogs and crustaceans (6).


Painted stork range

The painted stork has a wide range in the Indian subcontinent and parts of South East Asia (2) (6). It occurs in Pakistan, Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, China, Myanmar, Thailand, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Vietnam and Cambodia (1) (6). Despite this large range, the painted stork appears increasingly as a visitor rather than a resident of many countries. For example, in Vietnam it used to be considered a widespread bird, but now it is rarely seen and no longer breeds in the country (1).


Painted stork habitat

Open areas which support aquatic life, such as wetlands, marshes, ponds and flooded fields, are the preferred foraging habitat of the painted stork (2) (6) (7). It typically nests in waterside trees or tall bushes (2) (6), with tamarind trees (Tamarindus indica) being a favoured nesting site (3).


Painted stork status

The painted stork is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Near Threatened


Painted stork threats

The painted stork is considered to be threatened as the result of hunting, habitat destruction and agricultural pollution, which degrades its foraging habitat. Its meat is traded in local markets and its nesting trees, such as tamarind trees, are felled for agriculture and fuel (3) (6). It has also been noted that disturbance from human activities has caused the painted stork to flee from feeding and breeding areas (7) (10).

Although the painted stork is currently considered to be one of the more abundant storks in Asia, this is simply a reflection of the decline of other stork species within the region, rather than an indication of a thriving population (3).


Painted stork conservation

The painted stork occurs in a number of protected areas (10), but there are not currently known to be any specific conservation measures in place for this species.

The primary focus for future conservation efforts for the painted stork is to preserve wetlands in agricultural areas, by encouraging farming systems that create, rather than destroy, suitable feeding grounds for this species (4) (10). It has also been recommended that awareness campaigns should be carried out, to encourage local people to take pride in the painted stork and other large waterbirds and to deter hunting (10). This species may also need greater legal protection, and its nesting colonies require greater protection from disturbance (6) (10).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

Find out more about the painted stork and its conservation:

Find out about wetland conservation in Asia:



This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

This species information was authored as part of the Arkive and Universities Scheme.


Diverse group of animals with jointed limbs and a hard chitinous exoskeleton, characterised by the possession of two pairs of antennae, one pair of mandibles (mouthparts used for handling and processing food) and two pairs of maxillae (appendages used in eating, which are located behind the mandibles). Includes crabs, lobsters, shrimps, woodlice and barnacles.
To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
An area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a colony.


  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2011)
  2. Brazil, M. (2009) Birds of East Asia. A & C Black Publishers Ltd, London.
  3. Pattanaik, C., Prasad, S.N., Murthy, E.N. and Reddy, C.S. (2008) Conservation of painted stork habitats in Andhra Pradesh. Current Science, 95(8): 1001.
  4. Urfi, J.A and Kalam, A. (2006) Sexual size dimorphism and mating pattern in the painted stork (Mycteria leucocephala). Waterbirds, 29(4): 489-496.
  5. Thapar, V. (1997) Landof the Tiger. A Natural History of the Indian Subcontinent. University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles.
  6. Hancock, J.A., Kushlan, J.A. and Kahl, M.P. (2010) Storks, Ibises and Spoonbills of the World. Christopher Helm Publishers, London.
  7. Urfi, J.A. and Kalam, A. (2008) Foraging behaviour and prey size of the painted stork. Journal of Zoology, 274(1): 198-204.
  8. Meganathan, T. and Urfi, A.J. (2009) Inter-colony variations in nesting ecology of painted stork (Mycteria leucocephala) in the Delhi Zoo (North India). Waterbirds, 32(2): 352-356.
  9. Kannan, V. and Manakadan, R. (2007) Nocturnal foraging by painted storks Mycteria leucocephala at Pulicat Lake, India. Indian Birds, 3(1) 25-26.
  10. BirdLife International (March, 2011)

Image credit

Painted stork head portrait  
Painted stork head portrait

© Bernard Castelein /

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