the white stork, a migratory wading bird known for its long annual migrations, is a sight to behold in its natural habitat. learn more about this graceful bird and its fascinating migration patterns.

The White Stork: A Migratory Wading Bird

GardenBy May 21, 2024

The Majestic White Stork

The White Stork is a large migratory wading bird belonging to the Ciconiiformes order and the Ciconiidae family. While there are several species of storks, the most common in France is the White Stork (Ciconia ciconia). Originally known as the symbol of Alsace, this graceful bird is not limited to that region and has managed to conquer many other parts of France, including Nouvelle Aquitaine. Although its populations are still fragile, they have shown signs of recovery after being on the brink of extinction.

Description of the White Stork

The White Stork is easily recognizable with its beautiful black and white plumage. Both males and females have the same coloring. The majority of their body is white, with the black color mainly present on the tips of their wings. During the breeding season, their necks are adorned with long white feathers.

The stork has long, red legs that are devoid of feathers, and a sharp beak that is red-orange to blood-red in color. Its powerful beak resembles a dagger. The stork’s eyes are dark in color.

The juvenile storks have duller black feathers on their wings, and their beaks start off black before gradually turning orange at the base. Their legs are a pinkish color.

These majestic birds measure around 102 cm in height and weigh on average between 3 to 3.5 kg, making them one of the larger bird species. Their impressive wingspan ranges from 155 cm to 165 cm and can sometimes exceed 2 meters. While flying, storks have an elongated neck, unlike herons, with which they are often confused.

The White Stork has a slow and majestic walk and can perch for a long time on one leg while preening its plumage. Unlike many other birds, they do not make any calls or sing, as they lack the muscles required to produce sounds. However, they can emit some whistles in their nests or produce loud, prolonged, and powerful beak clapping with their heads thrown back. This sound, known as “craquettement,” allows storks to communicate with each other and greet their partners in the nest.

A Less Migratory and Sociable Bird

The White Stork is a very social bird throughout the year, and it prefers to stay in groups. They feed, move, and even breed in groups. At night, these majestic birds gather in roosts, usually in high places to protect themselves from predators.

While the White Stork is not afraid of humans, it prefers to keep a certain distance. It can be found in cities and readily nests on top of buildings, but it prefers to observe humans without getting too close.

In the past, the White Stork was a strict migratory bird, completely absent from our territories in winter. However, with the warmer winters caused by climate change and human activities providing an abundance of food, it now stays in our region all year round. When it does migrate, it does so in large groups that can consist of several hundred individuals. It is particularly awe-inspiring to see them flying overhead.

The White Stork has adapted well to human activities, to the point where it prefers to establish itself permanently near human settlements. However, this is not good news for everyone. While their presence is majestic and pleasing to the eye, they are formidable predators for the small fauna in their surroundings. They contribute to the decline of reptile and amphibian populations and can significantly disrupt ecosystems when they become sedentary and numerous.

Habitat and Distribution

The White Stork can be found in open areas such as cultivated fields, pastures, riverbanks, meadows, and orchards. It prefers open, herbaceous, and dry habitats, unlike the Black Stork, which inhabits forested areas. Moist meadows, large irrigated valleys, marshes, and well-watered agricultural areas are particularly appealing to the White Stork.

While some populations of storks have become sedentary, migrating only locally, others migrate from Europe to sub-Saharan Africa starting in September to spend the winter. To avoid crossing the sea, where thermal uplifts are scarce, they pass through the Strait of Gibraltar or the Bosporus to reach the African continent. Storks travel thousands of kilometers in less than a month each year. They return to Europe around February to breed. Their breeding range stretches across temperate Europe, from the Atlantic coast to the Ural Mountains, and extends down to the Maghreb in North Africa. Some populations in Central Asia migrate as far as India.

A Carnivorous Diet

The White Stork is a carnivorous bird. Its diet varies depending on the season and location, but it exclusively consumes animal prey. In Europe, storks feed on frogs, tadpoles, lizards, eels, earthworms, snakes, fish, grasshoppers, mollusks, snails, crustaceans, chicks, and eggs of small birds and mammals. They hunt and catch their prey with their large beaks, especially rodents like voles. In Africa, the stork’s diet mainly consists of grasshoppers.

Occasionally, they can scavenge and feed on food waste in landfills.

Reproduction of the White Stork

In Europe, White Storks breed in colonies. They reach sexual maturity around 4 or 5 years of age, but they can continue to reproduce well into their 25s or 30s and even longer. They are considered long-lived species.

White Storks are monogamous, and once a pair is formed, the male and female remain together for life and produce one brood per year.

Originally tree-nesters, storks often reuse existing nests, adding new materials each year. Nests are usually built at high locations, on a tree, a church steeple, or an electrical pylon. The nest needs to be easily accessible for the storks to fly into it due to their large wingspan. Over the years, these nests can become quite large and heavy. The pair reinforces their bond by clapping their beaks and then engaging in copulation.

The female lays an average of 4 shiny white eggs, at a rate of one every two days, which she incubates during the night. During the day, the male takes over. The incubation period lasts between 32 to 34 days, after which the chicks hatch covered in white down feathers. The parents feed them by regurgitating food directly into the nest. After several days, the chicks become more independent and start consuming the prey that their parents place next to them. They leave the nest at around two months old.

Ecological Impact

The White Stork is highly beneficial in a garden as it feeds on earthworms, snails, insects, and small rodents, helping to control their populations.

Unfortunately, the White Stork has experienced a significant decline since the mid-20th century. Climate change has disrupted its natural habitats, and intensive agriculture and the use of pesticides have further harmed its populations. Some bird species have been close to extinction due to the use of certain chemicals, and the White Stork has also been affected. However, conservation centers have been established to protect and reintroduce the species. Storks born in captivity that are unable to migrate have been forced to settle in specific areas, thus helping to repopulate certain territories.

These majestic birds remain vulnerable to the toxic substances they ingest from landfills and objects that can cause intestinal blockages. They are also at risk of electrocution and collisions with wind turbines. In Africa, they are targeted by poachers as well.

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I'm Jennifer. My hands are often covered in soil, and my heart is full of passion for nature. Through my writings, I share my personal gardening journeys, tips, and the joy of cultivating both plants and a community of fellow garden lovers. Every plant I grow adds a story to my life, and I love sharing those tales with my readers.