White stork (Ciconia ciconia)

French: Cigogne blanche
GenusCiconia (1)
SizeWingspan: 155 – 165 cm (2)
Weight2.3 – 4.4 kg (2)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

Owing to its mythological reputation as the bringer of babies, the white stork is an extremely popular bird (3). The white stork has a stout body, distinctive long neck and slender legs for wading. The iridescent black wing feathers contrast with the bright white plumage of the head, neck and body, and a patch of black skin surrounds the eyes. The bare legs and straight, conical bill possess a strong red colour that is acquired as the bird reaches adulthood (4). The feathers of the lower neck and upper breast are elongated, forming a ruff that can be extended during courtship displays (5). The two sexes appear almost identical although males can be slightly larger. The plumage of juveniles is a dull, light brown colour and has a downy appearance; the black bill and pale brown legs slowly acquire the adult colouration as the bird ages (5). The white stork is almost voiceless and largely silent, although it does communicate with brief hissing noises and, most importantly, bill-clattering; this is most pronounced during breeding and nesting and the sound can carry great distances. Juveniles are capable of their own rendition, often accompanied by extensive whistling and croaking (4).

The white stork spends the warm summer months of the breeding season in parts of central and southern Europe, the Middle East and west-central Asia. In winter it follows spectacular migration routes to regions of southern Africa, flying straight across the vast expanse of the Sahara without pause and sometimes stopping in places such as Sudan to feed before moving on (4).

This species breeds in freshwater habitats such as wet pastures, flood-plains, marshes, lakes and rice-fields. It constructs nests in open, lowland areas near suitable foraging locations such as marshes, wet pastures and tidal flats (6). During the winter, drier habitats are preferred, such as grasslands, cultivated fields, and savannah (6). The white stork often makes use of human habitations, nesting on the roofs of buildings and telegraph poles and feeding from nearby pastures and ploughed fields (5) (7).

The white stork is a largely carnivorous bird, consuming a wide range of prey including small fish, snakes, frogs, molluscs, crustaceans, a variety of insects and, on occasion, some rodent species (4) (5). It forages in loose groups of up to 50 and searches for its prey visually; when located, it typically arches its neck back and jabs at the prey with its sharp-edged bill (5) (6). Its behaviour is highly opportunistic and it will consume whichever item is most available; as a result large groups reaching hundreds of thousands may form around abundant food sources, such as swarms of locusts (6).

During the breeding season, the white stork often forms loose informal colonies; up to nine pairs have been seen on one single rooftop (4). The male and female will stay together for the whole season but do not migrate together; if they reform their partnership in successive years it is typically due to attachment to the nest site rather than each other (5). Males will often arrive first and vigorously defend the nest site from intruders. The subsequent arrival of the female will initiate a fascinating and intricate courtship display involving the male shaking its ruff and vigorously bobbing its head (4). The pair will then build a huge, complex nest, with some reaching over two metres wide and three metres deep (4). Made from sticks, grass and other foliage, the nest is situated high up off the ground (6), and completion of the nest is often signified by placing one leafy branch on the top of the nest (4). The female will lay three to five eggs of a chalky-white colour which are incubated for 33 to 34 days. The chicks are fed by both parents via regurgitation and will eat up to 60 percent of their body weight each day, until around nine weeks of age when the chicks leave the nest (5). The white stork is believed to reach sexual maturity at around four years of age (5) and live for up to 33 years (4).

The alteration of wetlands is greatly threatening the white stork, destroying its preferred habitat (6). Wetlands are being destroyed by the erection of dams and pumping stations, which prevent floods on flood-plains, as well as an increase in agriculture, development and industrialisation (6). Changes in architectural trends have also resulted in a reduction of suitable nesting sites on buildings (2). In its winter habitat, drought, desertification, and the use of pesticides impacts the availability of prey on which the white stork can feed (6). Electrocution resulting from collisions with overhead power-lines is another serious threat to this bird (4). Finally, the white stork is also hunted for food and for sport, primarily as it is migrating and on its wintering grounds (6).  

Due to its popularity, efforts to conserve the white stork can be traced back to before the Second World War. Conservation measures that have been implemented since then include constructing shields to provide protection against high voltage cables, preserving suitable breeding habitats, and constructing artificial nesting sites (2) (3). Additionally, since late 1980s there has thankfully been an increase in the banning of pesticides (2). Further measures have been recommended, including the regular flooding of meadows to create suitable habitat for this species, and the preservation of ditches, ponds and lakes (6). 

To learn more about efforts to conserve the white stork see:

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

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2010)
  2. Mead, C. and Ogilvie, M. (2007) The Atlas of Bird Migrations: Tracing the Great Journeys of the World’s Birds. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
  3. Berthold, P., Fiedler, W. and Querner, U. (2000) White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) migration studies: Basic research devoted to conservation measures. Global Environmental Research, 4(2): 133-141.
  4. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1992) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 1: Ostrich to Ducks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  5. Smithsonian National Zoological Park (November 2009)
  6. BirdLife International (November, 2009)
  7. Tryjanowski, P., Sparks, T.H. and Jerzak, L. (2006) The White Stork in Poland: Studies in Biology, Ecology and Conservation. Bogucki Wydawnictwo Naukowe, Poznań.