Stork: Characteristics, Habitat, Migration, Feeding and more

The stork , its scientific name is Ciconia ciconia, belonging to the family Ciconiidae, also called common stork . It is characterized by its large size and has a black and white wing plumage, and obtains a red color on the legs and beak of adults. The features of this bird are similar to those of the black stork , they differ in the color of its plumage and in other aspects that you will be able to observe later on. Keep reading and discover what is a stork and everything about this beautiful bird.

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Regarding the two subspecies, which are slightly different in size, they mate in Europe, northeastern and southern Africa and southwestern Asia. A small part of the world population is concentrated in Poland.

The stork is a migratory bird that can travel long distances. In the winter season it usually stays in Africa. When migrating between Europe and Africa, it avoids passing through the Mediterranean Sea, so it detours through the Mediterranean Levant in the east, or through the Strait of Gibraltar in the west, this is because the tropical columns it needs do not settle on the water.

Being a carnivorous bird, the white stork feeds on a wide variety of small animals, including insects, fish, reptiles and small mammals and birds. Its food is usually found on the ground, in areas of low vegetation or in shallow water. It is a monogamous bird and keeps its mate for life. Both members of the pair build a large nest that can be used for several years.

Every year the female lays approximately four eggs, which hatch in 33 to 34 days. The couple takes turns incubating the eggs, as well as feeding their chicks. The young leave the nest when they are 58 to 64 days old; their parents continue feeding them for another 7 to 2 days.

This bird has given rise to countless legends and stories since its existence, the best known of which is the story that attributes it to bringing babies at birth.

Description and Characteristics of the Stork

The stork is a very large bird; as an adult it is capable of reaching a length of 100 to 115 cm and a standing height of 100 to 125 cm. It can have a wing span of 155 to 215 cm and a weight of 2.3 to 4.5 kg. Like all storks, its legs and neck are long, as well as its bill, which is long, straight and pointed.cigueña

Both males and females have the same appearance, but males are larger than females. It is covered with beautiful white plumage, with black on the flight feathers and wing coverts; the black color is due to melanin.

The stork’s breast feathers are long, creating a ruff that it will wear during courtship. The iris is brown or gray and the skin over the eyes is black. When it reaches adulthood, its beak will be bright red and its legs red, whose coloration comes from the carotenoids in its diet.

Like other storks, its wings are long and broad, allowing it to glide with ease. It has a very particular way of flying, with its neck stretched forward and its long legs extended beyond the edge of the short tail. When walking, it walks slowly and with its neck stretched out.

Chicks at hatching are partly covered with sparse, short, whitish feathers. Within a week these first feathers are replaced by a stronger layer of white feathers. After 3 weeks the young bird develops black flight feathers.

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Within its range, the white stork can be distinguished only when it is on the ground, but when it flies it can be confused with other species with similar colors, such as the African tantalus, the common pelican and the Egyptian vulture . The African tantalus has a long black tail, a yellow, slightly curved beak and is smaller in size compared to the stork.

The common pelican has short legs that do not extend beyond its tail and flies with its neck tucked in, and keeps its head close to its body, its flight is different. Pelicans glide in flocks in a synchronized manner, unlike the stork which flies in flocks and in a disorganized manner. The Egyptian vulture is much smaller and has a long wedge-shaped tail, short legs and neck, and a small yellow head.

The common crane when flying can also look black and white, has longer legs and a longer neck.

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The flight is one of the most striking moments of the stork, with its long and wide wings, the idea of gliding is very interesting to see.

Distribution and habitat of the stork

Surely you have wondered where the stork lives , this bird has a wide distribution in Europe, North Africa and parts of western Asia. Migratory routes expand the range of this species to many parts of Africa and India. Some populations of this stork species , choose the eastern flyway, which passes through the Middle East into eastern and central Africa.

Their preferred feeding grounds are green pastures, grasslands and shallow wetlands. It avoids areas with tall shrubs. In the Chernobyl region of northern Ukraine, stork populations declined considerably after a nuclear accident in 1986, where cultivated land was abandoned to become wasteland with shrubs and tall vegetation.

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Similarly, white storks have been known to forage in garbage dumps in the Middle East, North Africa and South Africa and outside the breeding season.

The stork nests mostly in areas with open vegetation, in green areas that are sufficiently wet or sometimes flooded, but not in areas covered with tall vegetation, such as forests and thickets. This bird is an uncommon visitor to the British Isles, where about 20 birds per year are observed, although no nesting records have been found.

In the 19th century a decline in their population began as a result of development and changes in agricultural processes. White storks no longer nest in some countries. However, concentrations of the western population are now found in Portugal, Spain, Ukraine and Poland.

As for the storks in Spain , specifically in the Iberian Peninsula, these populations are clustered in the southwest and also appreciate a decline due to agricultural practices. However, the number of white storks increased considerably in the highlands of the Podhale region in southern Poland, where they were bred for the first time in 1931 and nested at increasingly higher levels, up to 890 masl.

Stork Migration

White storks use thermal columns during migration in order to be able to rise high enough to reduce the effort of long-distance flights.

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Between August and September, the storks leave their nesting sites in Europe and fly south to Africa. There they spend the winter season in the savannahs from Kenya and Uganda south to the Cape Province in South Africa. In these areas they gather in large flocks that can exceed a thousand birds.

Some move westward, as far west as Sudan and Chad, and even as far as Nigeria. In the spring these birds return north, passing through Sudan and Egypt between February and April. In late March and April they arrive in Europe after a journey of about 49 days.

As a result of tailwinds and little food and water along the route, these birds often fly at high speeds over regions that lack resources, thus increasing the speed of travel.

Flocks of these migratory birds, such as birds of prey, white storks and common pelicans can range over 200 km.

Juvenile White Storks that are about to make their first southward migration do so in an acquired direction; however, if they are displaced as a result of weather, they do not have the ability to compensate and may end up in a new place to winter. Unlike adult birds that can compensate for strong winds by adjusting their course to end up at traditional wintering sites, as they are adapted to their location.

Behavior of the Stork

It is a gregarious bird, groups composed of thousands of birds have been recorded in migration areas and wintering areas in Africa. Birds that do not breed are usually in groups of 40 or 50 during the breeding season. White stork pairs may congregate in small groups to hunt and in several areas nest in colonies.

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However, young storks often nest in suburban sites, while older storks are more reproductive by occupying the best quality nests in the center of the colonies. The sociability and bonding of these groups is sustained through such behavior as preening.

These storks exhibit this behavior only at the nest site. Unlike most storks, the white stork never obtains an outstretched wing posture, although it does drop its wings, keeping them away from its body with the primary feathers pointing downward when its plumage is wet.

Birds that are banded can sometimes be harmed by the accumulation of droppings around the band, which can cause contraction and trauma to the leg.

The stork is also characterized by the use of tools, such as squeezing moss in its beak to drip water into the mouths of its chicks.

How do storks communicate?

The stork sound produced by the adult stork is the croaking sound it makes with its beak, which is similar to the sound of castanets. The noise of the stork is a powerful sound emitted when it opens and closes its beak rapidly, producing a rhythmic rattling, amplified by its gular sac which acts as a resonator.

Croaking is a way of communication used by this bird, becoming louder the longer it lasts and acquires characteristic rhythms according to the situation; for example, it may be slower during bonding and shorter when it is an alarm signal.

Adult birds have a characteristic vocal sound, it is a whistling sound that can barely be heard; however, young birds may emit a louder whistle, several chirps, and a “meow” feline sound that they use to ask for food.

Stork feeding

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As for what storks eat, this bird feeds on a wide variety of small animals. It prefers to forage in fields within about 5 km of its nest, in sites with short vegetation for easy access to its prey. Its diet varies according to season, location and prey availability.

These foods include insects, mainly beetles, grasshoppers, locusts and crickets, earthworms, reptiles, amphibians and in particular frogs, small mammals such as mice, moles and shrews.

Also uncommon prey such as young and eggs of birds, fish, mollusks, crustaceans and scorpions. Its hunting habits are mainly during the day, swallowing small prey whole, but when it comes to large prey, it splits them before swallowing them but usually kills and splits larger prey before swallowing them.

Nonbreeding birds have a similar diet to nesting birds, but often forage in very dry areas. Storks wintering in India sometimes forage together with the white-necked stork ( Ciconia episcopus ).

Reproduction and life expectancy

The white stork breeds in open vegetation areas, with access to marshy mudflats; it structures its large nest in the canopy of trees, buildings or on artificial platforms created mainly for this purpose. The nest is built from branches and sticks and has a diameter of 0.8 to 1.5 m, a depth of 1 to 2 m and as for the weight of the stork nest , this is between 60 and 250 kg.

Nests are continuously built in colonies whose structure varies over the years. Storks do not consider humans as a threat, so they may nest near places frequented by humans. In southern Europe, stork nests are found in church steeples and other buildings.

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They use their nest every year, mainly by the older males. The males arrive at the beginning of the breeding season and proceed to select the nests. Making the nests larger is a sign of greater breeding success; making changes in the nest is often related to a change in the pair and lack of breeding success in the previous year; younger birds are more likely to change the nest.Pair composition may vary in the first phase of the breeding season and stork breeding will only begin once a stable mating has been established.

Some bird species take advantage of stork nests to nest there. These occupants may include house sparrow, house sparrow and starling; less common residents include common kestrel, little owl, European wagtail, white wagtail, black redstart, jackdaw and house sparrow.

Pairing white storks generally greet each other by exhibiting up-down behavior, shaking their heads by crouching and croaking while throwing their heads back. Pairs copulate frequently during the month preceding laying.

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A pair lays only once a year. The female usually lays four eggs, although there are records of clutches of 1 to 7 eggs. Eggs are white in color and often with a yellowish appearance due to a glutinous coating. They measure approximately 72.58 x 51.86 mm and can weigh between 96 and 129 g, of which 10.76 g is the weight of the shell.

Incubation begins with the laying of the first egg and the eggs hatch asynchronously after 33 to 34 days. The first hatchling has an advantage over the other hatchlings, but they are not aggressive towards their weaker siblings, as is often the case with some other species, weak or very small chicks are sometimes killed by their own parents.

This behavior is due to times of food shortage; reducing the number of broods increases the chance of survival of the remaining hatchlings. Because the broods do not attack each other, and because the parental feeding method (cutting off large amounts of food at a time) means that the stronger broods cannot prevent access to food for the smaller ones, the removal of the broods by their parents is the best way to reduce brood size. However, this behavior is not frequently observed.

Temperature is an important factor in the timing of hatching; cold temperatures and excessive rainfall often increase mortality among hatchlings and reduce the success rate of clutches. Surprisingly, some studies suggest that hatchlings that hatched late, once they reach adulthood, may have more offspring than those that hatched first.

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Chicks during the first few weeks can weigh approximately 3.4 kg in 45 days. The stork’s beak grows linearly over the next 50 days. The young birds feed on worms and insects that the parents return to the nest floor. While the older chicks forage for food from their parents’ mouths. The chicks leave their nest 58 to 64 days after hatching.

The reproductive age of the white stork normally begins at four years of age, although first breedings have also been recorded as early as two years, and as late as seven years. The wild white stork, known as the oldest, lived for 39 years after being banded in Switzerland. In captivity it can reach more than 35 years of age.

Parasites and diseases they can suffer from

White stork nests can be a habitat for a large number of arthropods, especially during the summer months when these nests are occupied by the birds for breeding.Over the years storks line their nests with layers of organic matter that accumulate inside.

The bodies of the birds tend to regulate the temperature inside the nest, the excrement left behind, as well as the remains of food, feathers and skin, serve as food for a large population of mesostigmatic mites. The most common being Macrocheles merdarius, M. robustulus, Uroobovella pyriformis and Trichouropoda orbicularis, this group represents almost 85% of all specimens collected.

These mites feed on insect eggs and larvae and nematodes that predominate on the nest leaves.

Birds themselves are often hosts for feather mite species, as well as the chewing lice that tend to be found on the wings and other parts of the body.

The stork also possesses some types of internal parasites, such as Toxoplasma gondii , and intestinal parasites of the genus Giardia . Also West Nile virus an infection that is transmitted among birds by mosquitoes. Migratory birds play an important role in the transmission of the virus, the ecology of which remains poorly understood.

Stork Conservation

The decline in the number of storks as a result of industrialization and agricultural development (mainly the drainage of mudflats and the change of vegetation into large maize crops). However, the species has been reintroduced in many regions. In 1988 the IUCN classified it as a threatened species and since 1994 as a species of least concern .cigueña
The Stork is also one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies.This agreement consists of engaging in a variety of conservation tactics detailed in an action plan. This plan is concerned with the creation of techniques for the conservation of species and their habitat, the work done by humans, research and education.these threats include the continued decline of wetlands, the continuous collisions with overhead power lines, the incessant use of pesticides, in this case DDT, a pesticide used to eliminate locusts in Africa, as well as illegal hunting, especially in the migration and wintering areas.cigueña
In the early 1980s, the stork population was reduced to less than nine pairs in the upper Rhine valley, a region that has been closely linked to the stork for centuries. Movements for the conservation of this bird managed to increase the population to 270 pairs in 2008, thanks to the great efforts of the Association for the Protection and Reintroduction of Storks in Alsace and Lorraine.

However, the reintroduction of zoo-bred birds has halted declines in Italy, the Netherlands and Switzerland. In 2008, 601 breeding pairs were found in Armenia and approximately 700 pairs in the Netherlands. In Poland, power poles were modified by implementing a platform at the top to prevent large white stork nests from causing power outages.

The Stork in the culture

  • The Greeks in turn decreed the punishment of death penalty for people who murdered a stork.
  • In ancient Thessaly, storks were apparently protected, for hunting snakes and for the belief that it was Virgil’s “white bird”.
  • Roman writers also indicated that the arrival of the white stork in the spring was a good sign for farmers to plant their vines.
  • Followers of Islam worshipped storks because they seemed to them to make an annual pilgrimage to Mecca during their migration.
  • Storks are not afraid of humans if they are not disturbed. In Germany, they believed that the presence of a stork’s nest on the roof of a house gave protection against fire. They also had the belief that their souls were human.
  • In the Netherlands and Germany, nesting platforms were built near dwellings, a way to attract storks, and with them good luck.

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  • The image of the white stork represents a popular ornament on postage stamps and is included on approximately more than 120 stamps issued by more than 60 different issuing entities.
  • Polish poet Cyprian Kamil Norwid mentioned storks in his poem Moja piosnka (II) (“My song (II)”).
  • His portrait was also included in the coats of arms of several cities in the Netherlands, including The Hague

Legend of the Stork

In European tradition, the stork is the bird that delivers babies to their new parents. This legend is very old and very popular during the 19th century because of a tale by Hans Christian Andersen entitled The Storks.

In German tradition storks found babies in caves or swamps and carried them home in their beaks or in a basket on their backs. In these caves were adebarsteine or “stork stones”. Then the babies were to be given to the mother or thrown down the chimney. When one wanted to have children, sweets were placed in the windows of the houses as a sign for the stork.

From Europe this tradition spread all over the world, even to South America and countries such as the Philippines.

According to a long-term study, it showed a connection between the number of stork nests in a region, with human births, is widely used in teaching statistics and implies that a similarity does not necessarily indicate causality.

The myth of child delivery arose in different forms throughout history. Children of slaves in the United States were told white babies were brought by storks, while slave babies were born from vulture eggs.

Some curiosities of the stork

  • In the year 1416 a pair of white storks built their nest on top of Saint Gilesen’s Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland.
  • The smallest stork is the Hammerkop, measuring 60 cm tall.
  • Stork chicks can eat up to 60% of their own body weight every day.
  • Northern Europeans encouraged storks to nest above their homes in the hope that these birds would bring fertility and prosperity.
  • Storks are a symbol of fertility and parenthood.
  • It is estimated that in the temple of the collegiate church of San Miguel in Spain, there are a total of 105 families of white storks that nest in the pinnacles, cornices and other elevated spaces of this monument. It is the largest colony of storks in Europe in a building!