The White stork is a large wader. They have a ruff on their chest, composed of long feathers and used by the birds during the courtship rituals. Its overall plumage is white, contrasting with black flight feathers and patches on their wings. The black coloration of their plumage is a result of pigment melanin and carotenoids, found in their usual diet. They have a black band, surrounding their eyes and blunt, nail-shaped claws. Sexes are similar in appearance, though females are somewhat smaller than males. Adult individuals have a long neck, red pointed bill, and long red legs. In addition, their feet are partially webbed.
The preferred habitat of these birds is agricultural fields, pastures, meadows, open wetlands, savannas, and steppes. They inhabit temperate areas with shallow, standing water. White storks are found across Europe, Asia Minor, the northern part of Africa, and the Middle East. By the winter months, the birds migrate into tropical regions of Africa, some parts of the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.
White storks are diurnal and non-territorial birds. They typically gather into loosely structured groups. At the breeding season, they nest in small groups, constructing the nests far from each other. Usually, their nests are located in trees as well as on top of buildings or other constructions. During the breeding season, non-breeding birds form groups of 40-50 individuals. During their annual migration and in their winter range, the birds gather into large groups of hundreds or thousands of storks. When migrating, they frequently ride thermals and use patterns of rising air.
Bing carnivore, the bird consumes various animal species, found in shallow water and on the ground. White storks consume fish, frogs, snakes, rodents, lizards, crustaceans, toads, tadpoles, spiders, scorpions as well as small mammals. They will also eat chicks and eggs of bird species, nesting on the ground.
These birds have a monogamous system, mating once in a lifetime. Mating season takes place in spring, typically from March to April. Makes storks return to the breeding grounds a few days prior to females, enlarging the nests, left from the previous season. Courtship rituals include soft cooing calls as well as loud warnings to scare away intruders. After mating, the female lays 2-5 eggs with intervals of 2 days. Both parents take part in the incubation process, which lasts 33-34 days. When the chicks hatch out, both male and the female feed the young by rotation. The chicks fledge, reaching the age of 58-64 days. Then, around 7-20 days after fledging, they become independent. White storks start breeding at the age of 3-5 years.
This wader suffers from the alteration of its wetland habitat. During the winter, the birds are affected by desertification, drought, and the use of pesticides, which greatly reduce available prey items, causing food shortages. Nesting on buildings, the birds suffer from the reduction of suitable nest-sites due to new architectural solutions. In some areas of their range, White storks occasionally collide with electric wires. In addition, the birds are hunted for sport and food, usually during their migration into their wintering grounds.
According to the IUCN Red List, the overall population of the White stork is increasing and estimated at 700,000-704,000 individuals. Meanwhile, the population in Europe is estimated between 224,000 and 247,000 pairs. On the IUCN Red List, the species is classified as Least Concern (LC).
Preying upon various animals, they control the number of these species’ populations. The white storks largely associate with humans. Thus, in agricultural lands, the birds benefit farmers by killing pests, while in the Palearctic ecozone of their range, they inhabit areas, chosen by humans as agricultural lands.