In Central Europe the White Stork was originally widely established. Today there are large gaps in the distribution. In Denmark the stork has completely died out, in Sweden it only exists in the form of birds raised in captivity and in Hungary the population is stagnating. However in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain in the last few years there has been a gradual increase in the populations. One major centre of distribution of the White Stork lies currently in Poland. Around 40 % of the world population is to be found in the new EU member states in Eastern Europe. The Michael-Otto Institute at NABU (the German Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union) in Bergenhusen carries out a census every ten years to keep an overview of the world-wide stork populations.
Notes on the map:
Data source: www.storks.poland.pl, Kosmos-Vogelführer, EuroNatur's own surveys
The boundaries marked here only indicate the core distribution areas as far as at present known. Lone individuals and smaller populations may be found outside these areas.
White Storks rely on an a habitat of open country, in general, wetlands, occasionally flooded river plains, extensively farmed meadows and pastures or water meadows. Originally the White Storks built their nests in old trees and rocks, today its more domesticated descendants usually choose roof-tops or tall chimneys.
The White Stork could never be mistaken for any other European bird. Standing it reaches a height of 80 to 115 cm and has a wing span of 195 to 215 cm. It is easy to recognize by its white plumage, with black on its wings and shoulders, its long red beak and red shanks. When foraging it stalks along at a gentle pace, its neck held straight and bent slightly forward. In flight it is slow with regular wing strokes. It is a “glider”, taking advantage of air thermals to soar up into the sky with outspread, unmoving wings.
Varying according to where they breed, between the end of February and beginning of April the Central European White Storks return to their nesting places of the previous year. They are faithful to both partner and nesting place and the building of the nest is carried out by male and female together.
The breeding time of the White Stork is from the beginning of April to the first days of August and lasts 32 to 33 days. They most often lay three to five eggs and both parents share the task of sitting on them. During its first months the young chick is constantly supervised by a parent. After arpound to months the nestlings begin to fly but are still fed by their parents a further two or three weeks. The young White Storks become independent after about two months and reach sexual maturity at around three to five years. Only then do the young storks return to their nesting area. In the meantime they live in the wintering regions.
White Storks feed on small mammals, frogs and toads, lizards, snakes, fish, earthworms, large insects and their larvae, in exceptional cases also on the eggs and young of ground breeding birds. They catch their prey mainly while stalking along with head and beak pointing down.
Endangerment and conservation status
Open, wet grassland (meaning traditionally farmed, extensively used meadows and pastures) has become rare in Europe. These habitats are mainly destroyed as a result of drainage or they become overgrown where they are neglected. It is above all through the changing pattern of land use that the White Stork is threatened in Europe. In the new EU states the intensification of agriculture which has followed on their accession to the EU represents a great danger for the stork. In the European Birds Directive the White Stork is listed in Annex 1. This is where the especially endangered species in need of protection are to be found. The member states are under obligation “to classify in particular the most suitable territories in number and size as special protection areas for conservation of these species”. In future, however, the conservation of the White Stork and its habitat can only be guaranteed by a change in agricultural policies.
Protecting Storks in Europe
European Stork Villages
An Unlikely Tourist Attraction in Poland: Storks - Barbara Whitaker on nytimes.com