The Shoebill stork is a majestic bird that some would describe as a horrific monster.
Although being a popular meme in today’s culture most people know nothing about Shoebills. It wasn’t until I became an enthusiast that I realized the truth of it all.
The bird was almost unknown to most people until meme culture would make it soar in different circles online. Internet comedy threw this bird into a viral sensation around 2014 on Reddit.
A simple GIF of a Shoebill turning their head in a very peculiar direction blew up gaining over 2,500 points and 300 comments. This post would only begin the Internet’s discovery of this underrated bird.
As the years went on the bird would only garner more attention from online comedians using it as reaction images and making meme templates. These all lead us to the meme that is so popular that it’s still making its way around TikTok pages to this day.
The template features a Shoebill staring blankly at the camera while being absolutely still as rain washes over them. Hearing and seeing this viral break for this random bird has everyone everywhere wondering what’s so special about a Shoebill.
Shoebills are not pleasing to the eye by conventional bird standards. Shoebills live primarily in freshwater marshes and swamps in East Africa giving them the nickname “King of the marshes.” These birds are gray with yellow patterned shoe-like beaks and measure up to 152 centimeters in height.
Shoebills are sometimes referred to as the most metal birds out there because of the sounds they make. Shoebills will often clap their beak while squealing, making for a sound that could strike fear into anyone.
As mentioned before, Shoebills have a tendency to zone out and stand statue-like for hours even in the rain. This bird is clearly not a people-pleaser especially when you take into account that only 10 zoos are hosting Shoebills.
None of this information really makes sense as to why the Internet would gravitate toward this bird. You could argue why not gravitate toward a bird that’s more beautiful or more widely known.
After becoming a Shoebill enthusiast myself, I have come to the conclusion that people gravitate toward Shoebill memes for one reason, relatability.
Short-form video content like TikTok as many of us know leads to doom scrolling. The most popular Shoebill template which is the one of it staring at the camera resonates with this idea. The Shoebill frozen and staring almost feels unnerving as the viewer themselves is stuck watching back.
This moment when the viewer is doom scrolling and comes across a Shoebill doing the same thing can make it so this random bird may feel what you are feeling. Through memes, the Shoebill has been able to connect to so many people making them feel a moment of realization during the blur of short-form content.
The Shoebill has helped us all. But the truth is, we need to help the Shoebill.
To no one’s surprise, the biggest danger to shoebills is climate change.
Rising temperatures and pollution has caused their habitats in East Africa to experience drought and fragmentation. This leads to less breeding between Shoebills causing this population decline.
Additionally, these things are destroying wetlands for not only Shoebills but also the plants and animals inhabiting them. Wetlands are some of the most important things on our earth that often go overlooked. Marshes, swamps, bogs, mangroves and more all act as systems to improve surface water quality. Along with the ability to purify water wetlands they also protect against floods.
Shoebills have also had their numbers affected by the illegal bird trade that is endangering so many birds. This multi-billion dollar industry has been built to kill birds and endanger everyone. This trade not only endangers birds but can also endanger people with diseases that jump from birds to humans.
When taking all this into account, the memes people make sort of experience a tone change. People make these videos about animals while being completely oblivious to everything happening.
There is good news though, Shoebills are still labeled as vulnerable meaning this unfortunate situation can be turned around. Next time you see a shoebill or just any animal meme use it as an opportunity to inform people about what’s going on in the world around them and how we could lose the most relatable bird and many more hilarious animals.