The famous white stork brings no babies. However, it does bring its own unique bird ballets to some parts of the Western Cape where a small number of pairs have made their permanent home and breeding area. Watching a pair courting is very entertaining.
Male and female storks tilt their heads as far back against their back as their necks will permit. The males clatter their long beaks and walk in a very dignified manner around the female, who will sometimes do the same. They will both lower their heads as if to bow.
Ciconiaciconia is a large stork, two meters in length and up to four kilograms in weight. The subject of two of Aesop’s fables and one ancient Greek legend that connects them to carrying babies (the story of the Pygmy queen Gerana and Hera, the most prominent of Greek goddesses), the white stork is seen in most parts of Europe.
In Europe, as in Morocco, they are encouraged to nest atop houses and nest platforms built for them, as they are traditional good luck charms for a household. White storks are usually only seasonal migrants to South Africa. There are two migratory flight paths that take the birds across deserts and mountains. One is the eastern flight path begun before spring begins in the Northern Hemisphere, taken from South Africa north, either straight through the Rift Valley and then the Nile, or up through the center of the continent and then to Sudan, then on to the Middle East or to Turkey and Eastern Europe. The other is the western flight path taken during the same time period from the areas of Mauritania and Morocco across the Strait of Gibraltar north to Spain and other countries in Western Europe. It is an incredible testament to the durability of this beautiful and abundant bird that individuals can make these migrations.
In the spring they try to return to the same nests they used in previous years, as evidenced by GPS tracking studies. They do not always succeed in finding the same nest but if they cannot, they will nest nearby. They mate for life, but if something happens to either the male or female along the migration route, the remaining stork will seek a new mate and use the familiar nest. The nest site, even more than the mate, is the most compelling draw to the area where breeding and the tending of the eggs will occur.
The tiny number of white storks that have taken up permanent residence in the Western Cape face problems with drought, accidental electrocution from power lines and poisoning. Still, there have been documented white storks breeding here since the 1950’s.
White storks are listed in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as Least Concern, with populations worldwide steadily increasing.
This YouTube video depicts data visualization of the GPS tracked paths of dozens of individuals as they leave Europe and the Middle East and head south: “From Above: Stork Migration”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v_PMdAT2SCc
Suggestions for Further Reading
Hall, Amy. White Stork – Their Heritage in the UK and potential future. Cameron Bespolka Trust.
International Union for Conservation of Nature. IUCN Red List White Stork (Ciconiaciconia).
Sinclair, Ian. 1995. Southern African Birds: A Photographer’s Guide. Struik Publishers. 304 pages.