Everyone will quickly recognise the White Stork as the legendary bird responsible for the delivery of newborn babies. These large, strikingly pied birds stand over a metre tall, has a wing span of up to 2 metres and weighs as much as 4kg.
White Storks migrate in enormous flocks (numbering hundreds or even thousands) from Europe, North Africa and Western Asia to Sub-Saharan Africa to spend the summer in our warm weather, the first birds arriving around September and the last departing again by April or May. At those times they are a regular sight in savannas, grasslands and cultivated fields right across South Africa, often close to water, feeding in flocks usually numbering from 10 to 50, though larger groups of several hundred are not uncommon. White Storks are diurnal in habit, roosting communally at night. They feed mainly on insects (but also rodents, reptiles and frogs), and often take advantage of fires to catch prey escaping the flames. Only a handful of pairs breed here, and only in the Western Cape. Nests are constructed of sticks in high trees or on top of buildings or other man-made structures, and often used for several consecutive years, even decades. As the nests are continuously expanded they can become quite huge over time, and are often shared by other kinds of birds. Pairs will build their nests in isolation or in loosely associated small colonies of up to 30 pairs. Up to 7 (more usually 4) eggs are laid and incubated for 33 days or so by both parents. The chicks stay in the nest for about two months after hatching.
The IUCN estimates the White Stork’s total global population at about 700,000 and growing, and considers them to be of least concern in conservation terms. The use of agricultural pesticides and subsequent poisoning, electrocution by overhead powerlines and habitat destruction are considered major local threats to the White Stork.