Since ancient times, the white stork has been adored and protected by some peoples as a messenger of fertility. The intensification of agriculture and modern farming methods have created numerous problems for this wader who today is no longer able to find enough nourishment for his young. Other difficulties come from its predilection for wet meadows that are increasingly drained, from collisions with overhead cables and from the use of pesticides and from hunting pressure in the regions it crosses during migration and in winter quarters. If we want these proud birds to be able to survive with us in the future, we must create and enhance suitable habitats for them.
Such a large yet elegant bird, finding its nest on the houses’ roofs and chimneys has always been considered a sign of good luck. The white stork is one of the birds that best represent the ancient link between man and nature and that’s exactly why we love white storks!
Everything you need to know about the white stork:
The neck, the beak and the very long legs, the black and white plumage – it’s practically impossible to confuse it when it flies in the sky in springtime. The white stork (Ciconia ciconia) is one of the most admired and loved birds of all time by men who have made it the protagonist of fairy tales, legends and even artworks.
It’s a tireless traveler, making incredible journeys every year to arrive in Europe and nest near our cities, in open agricultural areas, near marshy areas and swamps, on trees, buildings, ruins, pylons and artificial structures. In many European countries, the arrival of white storks in spring has always been considered a good omen and greeted with parties and ceremonies. On these occasions the peasants used to attach a wagon wheel to a pole to form a platform on which the storks could conveniently make their nests.
- Scientific name: Ciconia ciconia.
- Weight: 3000 – 3500 g.
- Wingspan: 183 – 217 cm.
- Age: Up to 39 years.
- Diet: Totally carnivorous; it feeds on small mammals, earthworms, insects, amphibians.
- Habitat: Wetlands, streams, lakes, urban areas and agricultural areas.
- Threats: There are numerous threats to the species, starting with local poaching episodes, the electrocution on power lines – a real threat given the habit of this bird to nest on the pylons – and the drought found in the African wintering areas. Like other species dependent on wetlands, the white stork has also suffered a lot from large reclamation works. Finally, the unsuitability of most modern buildings – as opposed to old houses, towers, bell towers – to host the nest of the species.
With an unmistakable appearance, it has black and white plumage, with long legs and red beak; of considerable size – it can measure 115 cm in length for a wingspan greater than 160 cm – the white stork, standing, can be over 1 m tall. The neck and chest feathers are particularly long, and the beak is also very big, it can measure up to 20 cm and is particularly suitable for capturing various types of prey – insects, small mammals or birds, reptiles and amphibians – which make up the carnivorous, and actually quite varied, diet of this species.
Formerly spread throughout the European continent and in Africa, now the white stork is present mainly in Bulgaria, Italy, Germany, Holland, Spain and Portugal. A few couples have also been spotted in Greece, Belgium, Turkey and Poland. Currently the population should be around 250’000 specimens. Predominantly migratory, the wintering areas are located beyond the Sahara. Further areas of confirmed nesting of the nominal subspecies range from North Africa to the Middle East, up to Central and Eastern Asia, where the asiatica and boyciana subspecies are present.
It lives in open environments such as swamps or grassy plains, where it can easily find the food it prefers, the white stork is exclusively carnivorous and feeds on insects, amphibians, reptiles as well as small mammals and rodents that captures with its large beak.
The breeding season runs from March to April, when the two parents prepare the nest on a tree, on a roof and sometimes even on power pylons. However, it chooses sites that are close to rivers, lakes and towns. They live in pairs and the male and female can even stay together for their long life – white storks can live up to 39 years! The nest is about one meter wide, big enough to house an average of 3 to 4 eggs which are hatched by both parents for about five weeks. Once hatched, the chicks are looked after by both parents. The young white storks will learn to fly around the third month of age.
The reproductive success of the white stork is higher in years with a milder climate, in which the return from the wintering areas occurs early. Bad weather conditions in the European sites can play against the species just as much as the excessive drought found in the African wintering areas. Nonetheless, thanks to the high level of protection and also thanks to numerous reintroduction projects, the European population of white storks shows encouraging trends oriented towards growth. Despite the relatively recent recolonisation of some countries, the white stork remains a threatened species at a continental scale.
Its decline dates back not only to ancient times – when the white stork was also persecuted for food purposes – but also to very recent years, as evidenced by the large decrease recorded in the European Union between 1970 and 1990. Many shadows and some light, on the state of health of this species, given that, after a twenty years of wide decline, a strong increase in the last years of the last century followed so much, so that the current population of the breeding species within the borders of the European Community could also reach 110 thousand couples. A contingent equal to about half of the total population surveyed on a continental level, and on a global scale.
Federico Fiorillo is an Italian nature guide and content writer based in the magnificent Val de Bagnes, Switzerland. He’s an avid hiker and snowboarder and he travels to the great wilderness areas of the world to see the wildlife and birds he’s passionate about.
In 2008 and 2011 he joined two Brazilian wildlife field trips in Bahia and decided that observing birds in their habitat was going to be one of his driving passions. He completed a birdwatching course with EBN Italia in 2013, and then in 2014 and 2015 he travelled to South East Asia, Australia and the United States where he joined a photographic workshop at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah.
From 2016 to 2018 he lives in New Zealand, where he collaborates in environmental projects at the Otorohanga Kiwi House, which since 1971 protects kiwi and other New Zealand native birds, among the projects he worked hands on the most rewarding was the one aiming to release Brown Kiwis into the wild.
In 2017, he completes a backcountry survival course obtaining the skillsets needed to thrive in-stead of just survive in the face of adversity in the wilderness. In 2017 he also joins a NZ Bird Photography Tour in Ulva Island and at the Royal Albatross Center of the Otago Peninsula, home to the world’s only mainland Royal Albatross breeding colony.
After his travels across the South Pacific, following his experiences in 2018 he moves in the Swiss Alps where he’s now a nature guide leading tours in the alpine region between Switzerland, Italy and France. Leading nature walks and overnight hiking trips, teaching tourists and locals the secrets of the plants and animals living in this alpine region.
Inspired by an alternative lifestyle he believes in the importance of being in connection with the natural environment and feels the responsibility of interpreting the natural wealth of a site, educating and informing other of the different aspects of that particular area.