(‘Stalking’ the Birdlife in Haag!)
One of my son’s and my favourite pass-times in the warmer weather, is Stork-watching from our fabulous balcony vantage-point. Not really knowing that much about them, myself, other than from what we have seen with our own eyes, I decided that this week’s Gallery topic was a great excuse to do some research and to share with you a little of our luck :-) So here goes:
The White Stork
Genus/Species: Ciconia ciconia ciconia
There are approximately 180,000 pairs of White Storks in Europe, breeding mainly in the warmer Eastern and Central areas of the continent. In 2004 there were 52,500 pairs in Poland and the highest registered density of birds was found in Lithuania, hosting 10,000 pairs.
Of the 3400 pairs in Germany, 3000 of these are in former Eastern Germany, so I actually feel extremely privileged that my own little home town plays host to two pairs plus offspring each year.
The White Stork is a migrating species, choosing to head for warmer climates such as tropical Africa or even India to avoid the cold winters of Europe before returning to breed the following Spring. They are territorial and tend to seek out, re-inhabit and expand! their nests from previous years. Nests in regular use can measure up to 2m in diameter and 3m in depth! Amazing, considering the thoroughly bizarre and precarious effigies they are often built upon!
Storks are considered monogamous to a certain extent, although it is said to be the nest which brings them together year after year, rather than each other!
Generally speaking, however, having stayed loyal for the breeding season, Storks appear to adopt the ‘change is as good as a rest’ philosophy and will take leave of each other for the winter, opting rather to migrate separately. The following season, it is the generally the male who returns to the nest first and will instigate a courting routine on arrival of a female, should he accept her as his mate for the season. Given that the birds are for the most part mute, the ritual comprises much ‘up and down’ body language and the clacking of bills. The routine may be considerably shorter if the pair has already mated together in previous years.
It is all the more poignant then, given the Storks’ tendency to tradition and heritage! that one of the pairs in Haag should choose to nest in the industrial brick chimney of a 17/18th century baroque house – one of the few remaining examples of its kind in the town.
The chimney itself looks pretty precarious and although now a listed and protected building, it has been subjected to a little human intervention to support both its own natural ‘leaning’ and the storks’ collaborative weight – (at up to 4.4kg each, and measuring up to 1m tall, our visitors are not really the ‘feather-weights’ of their breed … so to speak!
The first annual sighting here in the village is always thrilling and, although the Storks are around every day, I never tire of watching their spectacular flight as they effortlessly ride the thermals above us, or as they plod as majestically as only they can plod, up and down freshly ploughed fields looking for an opportunist meal.
Storks are carnivorous but are not particularly ‘picky’ about their food, largely taking what their immediate environment has to offer, ranging from frogs, toads and fish, to earthworms, small mice and rodents and even, very occasionally, chicks or eggs from ground-nesting birds.
The Stork’s life-style, although seemingly stress-free during the breeding season, actually exposes it to many dangers during the migration period, including exhaustion, illegal hunting, poisoning and electrocution from flying into power-lines. The German name “Pfeilstorch” (Arrow Stork) has even been attributed to the sorry victims of hunting, which have returned to Europe with African arrows embedded in their necks or bodies – a count of around 25 to date (according to Wikipedia).
Other happier anecdotes, however, include the fact that the 2010 World Cup has provided new breeding grounds for several pairs of White Storks which would have otherwise returned to Europe for the warmer season; Birdlife.org reports that the birds have approved many of Africa’s new stadiums up and down the country as ideal locations to rear their families! Some local soothesayers allegedly see this as a good omen – a sign of a potential win for one of the African teams. Continuing with the theme that in mythology, it is the Stork which brings the baby to new parents, the Africans are hoping that the Stork maybe bringing them a ‘New arrival’ of their own, in the shape of a Cup!
You can read the rest of that report here, along with another intriguing tale of a migrating Stork arrested in Burundi for being a spy: http://www.birdlife.org/news/news/2010/04/white-stork-football.html
Personally, I would be saddened if this intriguing and wonderful species were to forfeit their journey in favour of football! as, both my son and I, have quite taken to them being around. Their arrival and company is a real highlight of our own ‘warmer season’ here in Haag and we would both miss them hugely if they didn’t return.
Other refs :