Large, unmistakable bird standing around 1-1.5m tall. Has a classic stork appearance with long slender legs, neck and long pointed bill. The legs and bill are bright orange. The plumage is white, with black flight feathers on the wings. The wingspan of this bird is around 1.5-2m.
Historically has had a wide distribution throughout Europe and Asia. Has become reduced in recent years. Still found clustered in large populations in much of central and eastern Europe (Poland is home to 25% of the world’s population), heading to Africa for the winter.
Open grasslands, farmlands, shallow marshes, and rice-fields are preferred over woodlands or shrub land for breeding. Scattered trees within these open areas are needed for roosting opportunities. During the winter, they tend to inhabit much drier areas.
Varied carnivorous diet. Small mammals (such as voles, mice, shrews and rats), large invertebrates (such as beetles and locusts), amphibians, reptiles, birds, eggs and fish are all opportunistically taken.
Flock together; very large flocks seen in Africa during the winter compared to the smaller breeding colonies that form when pairs feed and nest together. Communicate to each other with loud bill clattering (rapid opening and closing of the beak) and low hissing sounds. Nests are constructed of sticks and branches, normally high above the ground (in trees, houses and on telegraph poles).
The last breeding pair in the UK was recorded for the final time in 1416. Since then, white storks are recorded visiting the UK, but there are no breeding pairs yet. In 2019, 24 juvenile storks were released at Knepp Estate in Sussex as part of a reintroduction project.
Declined across Europe due to habitat loss (wetland drainage, industrialisation, dam creation), hunting (mainly during their migration in Europe), collision with power cables and excessive use of pesticides.
Did you know?
- The “bill-clattering” behaviour for communication has been likened to the sound of a machine gun.
- According to European myth, white storks delivery babies to new parents in a basket.