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White storkWhite Stork

AKA: European Stork, Common Stork

Order: Ciconiiformes – herons, hamerkop, storks, shoebill, ibises and spoonbills 

Family: Ciconiidae - storks  

Scientific Name: Ciconia ciconia



Description: The white stork is a large wading bird with long neck and legs, with a long sturdy beak.  Their wingspan is at least 5 feet.  Males and females look alike, although males are slightly larger.  They are mostly white with black flight feathers on the wings, and the beak and legs are red or orange.  Black skin surrounds they eyes.  They have long, broad wings adapted for soaring, and fly with their necks outstretched.  Juveniles have duller coloring than adults.  Adults reach heights of around 3 feet 3 in. and weigh 5.1-9.7 lbs.


RangeHome Range:   Europe and western Asia in the summer, and tropical to southern Africa and India (winter).


Habitat Type:   Open areas; usually wetlands, but also grasslands and agricultural areas.  Often nests in populated areas.


Reproduction:   White storks form loose colonies during the breeding season (Feb-April), and some pairs may breed alone.  They usually nest on the roofs of buildings, sometimes using trees instead.  During nest-building, the male brings materials to the nest and the female arrange it. The nest is built mostly of sticks.  The male may also bring large clumps of soil to line the nest, maybe to cement it together or just to make it more comfortable.  Many pairs will return to the same nest several years in a row.  They continue to add more material to the nest each year, and they can eventually form a huge platform up to 10 feet deep.  The nest attracts other birds such as sparrows and starlings, which build their own nests in appropriate-sized gaps in the storks’ platform.  These smaller residents may help to solidify the nest by adding their own nesting material.  The storks lay 1-7 white eggs per clutch (usually 4 or 5).  They incubate their eggs for 33-34 days.  The hatchlings have white down and black beaks.  Both parents help to feed the chicks, regurgitating food onto the floor of the nest.  The chicks fledge in approximately 2 months, and they become independent soon after fledging.  They are sexually mature at 2 years, and usually begin breeding when they are 3-5 years old.


Diet in the Wild:   Any small prey item that they can catch, including small fish, frogs, snakes, small mammals, worms, and a variety of insects.  They may rarely take larger prey such as weasels, cats, or even young goats.


Diet in the Zoo:   Crane diet, bird of prey diet and mice for enrichment.


General Information:   This species is the famous baby-deliverer of legends.  The idea of storks bringing babies probably began in northern Germany, where the storks arrived at the time of year that most babies were being born.  People encourage the storks to nest on their rooftops, in the hopes that they would bring fertility and prosperity to their household.  The white stork is still associated with people; nesting on buildings and feeding in agricultural fields or even around garbage dumps.

After breeding in Europe, the storks migrate to Africa for the winter.  They depend on thermals for soaring.  This means they have difficulty crossing large bodies of water.  Large flocks gather every fall to migrate around the ends of the Mediterranean Sea.  They easily cross the Sahara desert, where thermals are plentiful, and spread out to different parts of Africa.  Some birds travel more than 12,000 miles each year, moving from Scandinavia to South Africa and back again.  In Africa, the storks are known as “grasshopper birds” because they can be seen in huge flocks feeding on locust swarms.  Approximately 1,000,000 white storks were once reported in an area of about 10 square miles, feeding on an infestation of army worms.  These insect swarms would be devastating to crops if the storks did not control them. 

Like other stork species, white storks rarely vocalize, except for making quiet whistling sounds during the breeding season.  They use bill-clapping more often – snapping the beak together rapidly, with the head thrown back to form a resonance box in the neck, which amplifies the sound.  Bill-clapping produces a loud rattling sound that has been compared to the sound of a machine gun.  When resting, they may conserve heat by tucking the beak and one leg into their feathers.  Adults do not shelter their chicks from the rain.  Because of this, cold, wet weather in the spring can reduce breeding success.


Conservation Status:   In the past, this species has benefited from its association with people, spreading across Western Europe as the forests were cleared to provide more land for agriculture.  The population is now declining due to continued habitat alteration, shortage of nesting sites, pesticide use, collisions with power lines, and hunting during migration.  Despite the decline, the species is still one of the most common and widespread stork species.


Predators:   Chicks may be taken by birds of prey. They are also hunted for food in Africa



Birds of Europe.  1999. K. Mullarney, L. Svensson, D. Zetterstrom, and P.J. Grant.  Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.  Pp.34-35.


Encyclopedia of Aviculture, Vol. 1.  1970.  A. Rutgers and K.A. Norris.  Blandford Press, Poole.  Pp. 84-84.


Handbook of the Birds of the World, Vol. 1.   1992.  J. del Hoyo, A. Elliott, and J. Sargatal.  Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.  Pp. 436-455, 460.


National Zoo website