A symbol of Alsace, the white stork, Ciconia ciconia, spends the winter in Africa, returning to Europe in spring to reproduce.
Sauropsida, Ciconiiformes, Ciconiidae
1.15 m max; 2.15-m wingspan; 4.4 kg at the most
30 to 34 days, 3 to 6 eggs
wet and grassy meadows, cultivated land
insects, worms, frogs, reptiles, small rodents, etc.
Europe, Africa, Middle East
LC, least concerned
Way of life
Storks nest in small colonies. Always high up and uncovered, their nests are built on treetops, pylons, roofs or chimneys. Males, who arrive at the nesting site before the females, strengthen and enlarge existing nests, which can reach 2 metres in diameter and weigh more than 500 kg! When the female joins him, she adds leaves and grasses to make the nest more comfortable. Incubation begins as soon as the first egg is laid, and therefore eggs hatch asynchronously. Both parents feed their young by regurgitating worms and insects at the bottom of the nest. The baby storks grow quickly: at 10 weeks, they begin to fly and then gradually leave the nest. They join their elders to make their first migration south together. Most of them stay there for a year before returning to the nesting sites.
A large long-legged bird with white plumage, with the exception of the black feathers on their wings, the adult stork’s long beak and legs are red. This beak characterises its diet as the stork “harpoons” its prey. Baby storks have black beaks and greyish-yellow legs, developing an adult plumage at around two years of age.
Storks make very few sounds but they communicate with each other with characteristic bill-clattering, the sound of which is amplified by its gular sac, which acts as a resonator.
For the storks, who are remarkable gliders, the shortest path is not necessarily the straightest one! There are no rising warm air currents over the Mediterranean and therefore the migration routes between Europe and Africa go through Spain or Turkey.
On their return from Africa, pollution, pesticides which poison the small rodents they feed on, the shrinking “wetlands” and, above all, the increase in the number of electrified lines which they sustain injuries on, mean that storks find themselves in danger in industrialised countries. Measures to limit the number of these accidents, such as scarecrows and ultrasounds, are being studied and, in France, protection and relocation programmes just about managed to save the species: from a dozen breeding pairs in 1974, there are now around 1,900, mainly in Alsace and Charente-Maritime.
A symbol of Alsace, the stork has a special place in the popular tradition of a whole host of countries: a central figure in a number of fables, it brings swaddled babies in its beak or protects its host’s house from lightning.