GB No. 4(23)/96
When storks are coming back to Poland from their winter quarters in South Africa they have to cover a distance of 10 thousand kilometres, a route full of dangers. They fly over the Sudan, Egypt, Asia Minor, Straits of Bosphorus and Bulgaria. This is the route covered by Central European storks, while those living in the West, beyond the Elbe River, fly over the Gibraltar. They do not feel attracted by vast expanses of the Mediterranean Sea - flying over the land is safer.
Over 30 thousand couples of storks arrive in Poland every year, at the end of March. About one third of the whole European population of storks live in Poland, the last country in which they appear in such big numbers. In the West white storks are at the edge of extinction. There are about 3 thousand storks in Germany, 318 in Austria, and as little as only 30 in the whole territory of France. 15 thousand storks live in Ukraine and 10 thousand couples in Belarus. Belgian and Sweden do not have any storks at all, while Switzerland has started to import them from Algeria.
Twenty years ago there were about 40 thousand stork couples nesting in Poland, the biggest number in the world. In 1984 that number was reduced to 30 thousands only. Recently a special foundation named "Pro Natura" was called into being, with a main purpose of organising the protection of storks in Poland. Storks are the "most Polish" birds beside white eagles (a white eagle, another rarity of the Polish animal world, is a symbol of the Polish nationhood and entered the Polish national coat of arms). "To my country dear, where a great sinner is who dares to bring damage to a stork's net on the pear-tree, a stork so helpful..." - wrote a famous Polish poet Cyprian Kamil Norwid - In old Poland appearance of a new stork's net promised happiness, prosperity and fecundity. Children believed that they were brought by storks to their parents and damsels used to cover eyes when seeing them for protection against untimely progeniture. The birds join in couples for just one summer. The first to come back to the country of origin is the male. He verifies if the neighbourhood can offer enough food and if winter has not damaged the nest. He fixes, repairs and extends the old household. If he decides to make a new home it is usually not more than 50 km from the nest in which he was born. A female arrives a few days later. They fly together, make long walks in meadows, wave wings and enjoy old country. Once they settle in a renovated nest they start with nuptial ceremonies, crowned with laying 3-5 eggs. Incubation lasts about a month. Then the young storks live about 2-3 months with their parents. Not later than in mid-August they leave their parental nest and go to wet meadows. There, they gather in big flocks which are sometimes made up of several dozens of birds. That flock will make together a long flight to Africa.
One stork consumes about 100 full-grown insects daily. A stork family needs about 200-250 kilograms of food in one season. Beside insects they also eat field-voles, mice, frogs, fish and earth-worms. People say that old storks are cruel. When they expect a dry summer, throw some young ones out of the nest. They make a calculation of how many frogs, insects and rodents they can catch to feed the progeniture. Storks can foresee a dry summer as early as at the beginning of spring. As to their cruelty there is no unanimity of opinion among specialists. Some ornithologists explain the fact as follows: organisms of young storks may become a place where dangerous parasites from frogs develop and cause a disease. When parents detect it, they remove the infected young bird from the nest. Placing a nest is another mystery. Nobody knows why storks in Southern Poland live mainly on trees and in the North - on building roofs. About 10 percent of all country population of storks found abode in the region of Lublin. They took a special liking for wetlands by the rivers Bug, Wieprz and Vistula, and Łączyńsko-Włodawskie Lake Region. The oldest nest in the area, located on a barn's roof in the community of Horodło, is one hundred years old. In Dubienko, very unusually, we can see two nests on one barn roof. More and more often it happens that birds cannot find a suitable place for,their "households" weighing over a thousand kilograms. Heads of young trees are too weak while old and shapely old trees became very rare. Troubled storks seek abode on top of telegraph and electric power poles and perish from electrocution - alarm ecologists. To avoid it, power engineers a sort of "legalise" uninvited dwellers and install special platforms on the poles. Storks live with people and remember their place of origin for the rest of their life. They come to their old nests despite all dangers. In the community of Jeziorany near Lublin local dwellers observed last year a stork with an African spear stuck in the neck. In recent times we could observe growing number of stork families in several regions of Poland. Reduced land reclamation works and less fertilisers allowed to restore some traditional abodes of storks. The number of storks in a lagging zone of the Słowiński National Park near Łeba has grown in recent years by 30 per cent. An all-European census of storks is organised every ten years.
Last year the census was carried on for the fifth time already. The "Pro Natura" Foundation received 13,000 USD from the UN Global Environmental Found, within the framework of Small Grants Programme, for reckoning the storks. The census reveals that the number of storks in Poland has increased. Members of the "Pro Natura" do not only count storks, they also raise special platforms for their nests. In the voivodship of Warsaw only they built over a dozen artificial nests last year.
Not everywhere in the world people are so friendly with storks. In Lebanon hunters shoot at them for leisure. In the Sudan storks are hunted for by hungry people. In Poland, despite the fact that storks only promise now opulence in progeniture, people never happen to raise hand against them and treat them in a very friendly and homely manner.
reprinted from Newsletter from Poland 5/95
published by Polska Agencja Informacyjna S.A.
(the Polish Information Agency)