Black stork (Ciconia nigra)

French: Cigogne noire
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderCiconiiformes
FamilyCiconiidae
GenusCiconia (1)
SizeLength: 95 - 100 cm (2) (3)
Wingspan: 144 - 155 cm (2)
Weightc. 3 kg (2)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (4).

The black stork is a large but fairly secretive bird. The black head, upperparts, wings, tail and long neck have a conspicuous green or purple gloss, contrasting with the white belly, undertail and ‘armpits’. The long legs and long, straight beak are bright scarlet in adults, especially during the breeding season, and a patch of scarlet skin also surrounds the eye (2) (3) (5) (6). The male and female black stork are similar in appearance, though the male may be slightly larger (2) (3), while the juvenile has slightly browner, duller, less glossy plumage, and a pale olive-green beak and legs (2) (3) (5) (6). The black stork uses a range of calls, including a loud, ‘whinnying’ call at the nest, hoarse gasping, and beak-clapping (5) (6).

The black stork has the most extensive breeding range of any stork (2). It breeds across the Palaearctic, being a widespread summer visitor across much of central and eastern Europe, with a patchier distribution in western Europe and a partly resident population in Spain and Portugal (2) (7). In addition, the black stork breeds in southern Africa, in Zambia, Namibia, Malawi and South Africa, as well as in South and South East Asia (2) (7) (8), although less is known about the species from these regions. The black stork overwinters in the Iberian Peninsula (9), Middle East (10) (11), Africa, and also from western Pakistan, through northern India, to South East Asia and eastern China (2) (7) (12).

Throughout its widespread distribution across three continents, the black stork occupies a range of different habitats. However, it generally prefers old, undisturbed, open forest and woodland, at elevations of up to 2,000 to 2,500 metres. Foraging occurs in streams, pools, marshes, riverbanks, swampy patches, damp meadows and occasionally in grasslands, but the black stork usually avoids large bodies of water or areas of dense forest (2) (7). Birds often overwinter in estuaries and lagoons in South Africa (6) (7), and in rice fields in Europe during the non-breeding season (9).

The black stork feeds mainly on fish, although it may also take insects, amphibians, snails, crabs, and small reptiles, mammals and birds (2) (7). Most foraging takes place in shallow water, where the black stork stalks its prey, catching it with a quick stab of the beak (2). The black stork is capable of long periods of sustained flight, and may undertake migrations of up to 7,000 kilometres or more, often making long sea crossings that other species avoid (12) (13). The migration patterns and routes taken by the species have been well studied (12) (14), with European populations thought to take either a short western route south into Africa, through the Strait of Gibraltar, or a longer eastern route through the Strait of Bosphorus (12) (13). However, an unknown percentage travel only as far as the Iberian Peninsula (9) and Israel (10) (11). The Siberian population are known to migrate towards south-western Asia (Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan and south-west China), to the northern Indian subcontinent (15), while birds from Mongolia migrate through China to South East Asia. Southern African populations, in contrast, make mainly local, altitudinal movements after breeding (2) (7).

Although it may travel in small groups during migration, and may form groups of up to 30 individuals on its wintering grounds, the black stork is a solitary nester (2) (7). Breeding usually starts in spring in the Palaearctic and in South Africa, and mostly in the cool dry season further north in Africa (2). The nest is a large structure, up to 1.5 metres in diameter, and is usually built high in a large forest tree, or on a cliff. The structure is built with sticks and is lined with moss, grass and leaves, cemented together with earth. The same nest may be used year after year, or the breeding pair may take over the nest of another species, such as a large bird of prey or a hamerkop (Scopus umbretta) (2) (7). An average of three to four eggs are laid, and hatch after an incubation period of between 32 and 38 days. The chicks fledge at 63 to 71 days, and may take up to three years to reach maturity. The black stork is reported to live to at least 18 years old in the wild and up to 31 years in captivity (2).

Although not considered globally threatened, and still having a wide range and large global population, the black stork has generally declined throughout its range, particularly in western Europe (2) (7). The species disappeared from Belgium, Denmark, Sweden and parts of Germany during the first half of the last century (2), although more recently it has been making a comeback in parts of its former range (16). The main threat to the black stork is habitat loss, though deforestation, development, agriculture, draining and conversion of wetlands, and pollution. The use of pesticides is thought to have worsened the situation, and the building of dams and draining of lakes for irrigation and hydroelectric schemes have further reduced the species’ habitat (2) (7). For example, the building of the Alqueva dam in Portugal is estimated to have submerged the nesting sites of ten percent of the country’s breeding pairs of black storks (17).

Hunting and shooting in southern Europe, Africa and Asia have also contributed to population declines (2) (7). Black storks are occasionally killed by collision with powerlines and overhead cables (7), and are often disturbed at breeding sites by human activities, including angling, hiking, and the construction and use of new tracks and roads (17).

The black stork is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meaning that international trade in the species should be carefully controlled (4). It is also on Appendix II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), which aims to conserve migratory species throughout their range (18), and is listed under the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA), which calls upon parties to undertake conservation actions to help protect and conserve bird species that are dependent on wetlands for at least part of their annual cycle (19).

Other conservation measures proposed include managing river quality around breeding sites, protecting and managing feeding habitats, protecting large areas of forests, and improving food resources by establishing artificial pools (7) (14). It may also be important to retain large nesting trees during forest management (7) (20), and to limit disturbances during the breeding season, as well as to raise public awareness (20). In recent years, the black stork has been the focus of satellite-tracking projects, namely the African Odyssey and New Odyssey projects, and the ‘Flying Over Natura 2000’ project (12) (15) (21) (22). These have not only provided more information on the stork’s migration patterns, but have also helped raise public awareness both of the black stork and of the ‘Natura 2000’ protected areas, a network of European protected areas which contain a large proportion of the black stork’s breeding sites (17) (21) (22).

To find out more about the black stork and its migration, see:

For more information on this and other bird species please see:

Authenticated (31/03/10) by Luis Santiago Cano Alonso, Vertebrate Biology and Conservation Research Group, Department of Zoology and Physical Anthropology, Faculty of Biology, Cumplutense University of Madrid (Spain).
http://www.ucm.es/info/zoo/bcv_eng/index.html

  1. IUCN Red List (February, 2009)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1992) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 1: Ostrich to Ducks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. Erritzoe, J. (1993) The Birds of CITES and How to Identify Them. The Lutterworth Press, Cambridge.
  4. CITES (February 2009)
    http://www.cites.org/
  5. Peterson, R.T., Mountfort, G. and Hollom, P.A.D. (1993) Collins Field Guide: Birds of Britain and Europe. HarperCollins Publishers, London.
  6. Sinclair, I. and Davidson, I. (2006) Sasol Southern African Birds: A Photographic Guide. Struik, Cape Town.
  7. BirdLife International (February, 2009)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=3830&m=0
  8. Cano Alonso, L.S. (2008) An Approach to the Black Stork (Ciconia nigra) Status in Indochina. V International Conference on Black Stork (Ciconia nigra). Uzlina-Romania.
  9. Cano Alonso, L.S. (2006) An approach to wintering of Black Stork Ciconia nigra in the Iberian Peninsula. Biota, 7: 7-13.
  10. Van Den Bossche, W. (1996) Wintering of the Black Stork in Israel. II International Conference on Black Stork (Ciconia nigra). Trujillo, Spain.
  11. Black Stork Protection Germany (Schwarzstorchschutz Deutschland) (March, 2010)
    http://schwarzstorchberingung.de/page11.php
  12. Bobek, M., Hampl, R., Peške, L., Pojer, F., Šimek, J. and Bureš, S. (2008) African Odyssey project - satellite tracking of black storks Ciconia nigra breeding at a migratory divide. Journal of Avian Biology, 39(5): 500-506.
  13. Elphick, J. (2007) The Atlas of Bird Migration. Struik, Cape Town.
  14. Jiguet, F. and Villarubias, S. (2004) Satellite tracking of breeding black storks Ciconia nigra: new incomes for spatial conservation issues. Biological Conservation, 120(2): 153-160.
  15. New Odyssey (February, 2009)
    http://www.rozhlas.cz/odysea/angl
  16. The Independent: After 70 years in exile, the black stork returns to Europe’s forests (February, 2009)
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/after-70-years-in-exile-the-black-stork-returns-to-europes-forests-703185.html
  17. Cano Alonso, L.S., Franco, C., Pacheco, C., Reis, S., Rosa, G. and Fernández-García, M. (2006) The breeding population of black stork Ciconia nigra in the Iberian Peninsula. Biota, 7: 15-23.
  18. Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (February 2009)
    http://www.cms.int/
  19. African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (February, 2009)
    http://www.unep-aewa.org/
  20. Ciconia nigra (February, 2009)
    http://www.explorado.org/solon-new/intro/introen/index.htm
  21. Flying Over Natura 2000 in Spain (February, 2009)
    http://www.alados.org/flyingover/en/index.php
  22. Flying Over Europe (February, 2009)
    http://www.flyingover.net/