Ciconia ciconiaEuropean white stork(Also: white stork)

Geographic Range

European white storks breed throughout Europe, North Africa, Asia Minor, and the Middle East, although they have a fairly fragmented distribution within that large area. Breeding populations have been extirpated from many areas of Europe historically. They migrate into tropical Africa, parts of the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent during the winter. ("How do white storks adapt to their environment?", 2003; "White Stork- fact sheet", 2001; Cramp, et al., 1977)


White storks inhabit open wetlands, savannas, steppes, meadows, pastures, and agricultural fields throughout their range. They prefer areas with shallow, standing water that are not too cold or humid. Their habitat preferences coincide with human preferences for agricultural areas and settlements, resulting in a long-term commensalism. During the breeding season, white storks also seek out areas with suitable structures on which to build nests, especially sunny sites on tall trees or rooftops. They have also been known to nest on walls, stacks of hay and straw, ruins, chimneys, and artificial nesting platforms. ("How do white storks adapt to their environment?", 2003; Berthold, et al., 2004; "White Stork- fact sheet", 2001; Cramp, et al., 1977; "White Stork", 2006)

Physical Description

White storks are large, wading birds. They are covered in white feathers, except for the black primary feathers on their wings. They have long, sharp bills, and slender legs that are bright orange. Hatchlings and young have black bills and yellowish gray legs. Adults stand from 100 to 115 cm stall, with half of that height being made up by the legs. Their wingspan is 155 to 165 cm. Males are larger, on average, than females but both sexes are identical in plumage. ("White Stork, Ciconia ciconia", 1999; Latus and Kujawa, 2005; Cramp, et al., 1977; "White Stork", 2006)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    5000 to 10000 g
    176.21 to 352.42 oz
  • Average mass
    8000 g
    281.94 oz
  • Range length
    100 to 115 cm
    39.37 to 45.28 in
  • Range wingspan
    155 to 65 cm
    61.02 to 25.59 in


White storks begin their mating season each spring when males return to breeding grounds, in March or April. Males arrive a few days before females. While waiting for females, males enlarge the nest which he and his mate used the previous year. The male and female make soft cooing noises to each other as a form of courtship, and make loud, noisy warnings to keep intruders away. ("How do white storks adapt to their environment?", 2003; "White Stork- fact sheet", 2001)

Initially, when a female rejoins a male, he carries out the "head-shaking crouch" display. In this display, the male lowers himself into the nest as in an incubating posture. Then, he stretches out his long neck and begins to shake his head from side to side. Next, the male and female will cement their pair bond with an "up-down" display, in which the birds pump their heads up and down with outstretched wings. This display is also accompanied by clattering of the bills. ("How do white storks adapt to their environment?", 2003; "White Stork- fact sheet", 2001)

Ciconia ciconia remain in life-long monogamous mating pairs from the age of three or four. Because of this, there is a close pair-bond between the male and female. (Berthold, et al., 2004; Tryjanowski, et al., 2004; Wuczynski, 2005)

White storks nest in loose, informal colonies and breed in small groups, consisting of only a few pairs. These pairs may nest within sight of each other, but not terribly closely. Nests are huge and bulky and are constructed from sticks, branches, rags, paper, and other available materials. Nests can be up to 2 meters in diameter and 3 meters in depth. Ciconia ciconia make one of the largest nests of all birds. Both males and females participate in nest building, but males tend to bring more of the materials. Nests have been built on towers, rooftops, walls, haystacks, telephone poles, chimneys, constructed nest towers, trees, cliff-ledges, and occasionally on the ground. ("How do white storks adapt to their environment?", 2003; "White Stork- fact sheet", 2001; Cramp, et al., 1977)

White storks mate yearly. Females lay between 3 and 6 eggs, which hatch after roughly one month. Young white storks may leave their nesting grounds and be independent after about eight weeks. They do not begin reproducing until they are about four years of age. ("White Stork- fact sheet", 2001; Tryjanowski, et al., 2004; Wuczynski, 2005)

  • Breeding interval
    White storks breed once a year, each spring.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding season takes place in the spring, beginning in March and April.
  • Range eggs per season
    3 to 6
  • Average eggs per season
  • Average eggs per season
  • Range time to hatching
    30 to 37 days
  • Average time to hatching
    35 days
  • Range fledging age
    7.5 to 9 weeks
  • Average fledging age
    8 weeks
  • Range time to independence
    8 to 10 weeks
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    3 to 5 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    3 to 5 years

Nest-building is an important part of parental care because it creates a suitable environment for the young. Both males and females spend time incubating the eggs, feeding hatchlings, and protecting fledglings. Regurgitated food is fed to the young by both parents each hour until the hatchlings reach 10 days old, then every two hours until they reach 15 days old. Young begin to fledge between 58 and 64 days old and become independent 7 to 20 days later. ("White Stork- fact sheet", 2001; Tryjanowski, et al., 2004; Cramp, et al., 1977)

  • Parental Investment
  • precocial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female


The oldest recorded lifespan in the wild is 25 years, captive individuals may live up to 48 years. Mortality after the second year of life has been estimated at 21%, before 2 years of age it may be 30% or higher. (Cramp, et al., 1977)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    26 (high) years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    22 years
  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    48 (high) years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    20 to 25 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    35.0 years
    Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research


White storks generally occur in loose groups. During the breeding season white storks nest in small groups, but their nests are not close enough to be able to hear or see other pairs. Non-breeding individuals may occur in groups of up to 40 or 50 during breeding season. They form large groups of hundreds or thousands during migration and in their winter range. Their large size and carnivorous habits means that they must fly to foraging areas and that they need to take advantage of soaring and gliding whenever possible. They can sometimes be seen riding thermals and take advantage of patterns of rising air along migration routes. They are active during the day and not territorial. (Cramp, et al., 1977)

Communication and Perception

White storks communicate through vocalizations and through postures and movements. Tactile communication occurs between the parents and the infant as well as between the male and the female during mating behaviors. For example, after 14 days old, young white storks tap their parents bills to beg for food. (Berthold, et al., 2004; "White Stork", 2006)

Food Habits

White storks eat a variety of prey that includes insects, scorpions and spiders, frogs, tadpoles, fish, toads, rodents, lizards, snakes, crustaceans, earthworms, small mammals, and hatchlings or eggs of ground-nesting birds. Foraging Ciconia ciconia visually search for food while walking with their bill pointed toward the gound. When they detect prey, white storks jab their bill forward to grab their prey. In dry years they eat mainly insects and mice. In wet years they eat mainly aquatic animals. Plague insects, such as locusts (Schistocerca gregaria, Locustana pardalina, Dociostaurus maroccanus), armyworms (Spodoptera), and caterpillars (Laphygma exempta, Chloridea obsoleta), form an important part of the diet in areas or years when they become abundant. The primary prey taken varies greatly with regional abundance of prey. ("How do white storks adapt to their environment?", 2003; "White Stork- fact sheet", 2001; "How do white storks adapt to their environment?", 2003; Latus and Kujawa, 2005; "White Stork- fact sheet", 2001)

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats terrestrial vertebrates
    • insectivore
    • eats non-insect arthropods
    • vermivore
  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • fish
  • eggs
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • mollusks
  • terrestrial worms
  • aquatic crustaceans


There are few predators of adult Ciconia ciconia. Nestlings and fledglings may be preyed on by hawks and eagles. White storks place their nests in high places, protecting their young and eggs from most terrestrial predators. They also vigorously defend the young. ("How do white storks adapt to their environment?", 2003; "White Stork, Ciconia ciconia", 1999)

Ecosystem Roles

White storks influence the populations of their prey items. They have a long-term association with humans in the Palearctic because they prefer similar areas to those preferred by humans for agriculture. ("How do white storks adapt to their environment?", 2003; "Living Lakes", 2005)

Mutualist Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The benefits of Ciconia ciconia come largely from their aesthetic value. They also help to control populations of agricultural pests, such as grasshoppers. (Latus and Kujawa, 2005)

  • Positive Impacts
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

White storks often build their large stick nests on rooftops, chimneys, and electrical towers, which can be both dangerous and an annoyance. In some areas the presence of stork nests is seen as a sign of good luck and nests are tolerated. ("How do white storks adapt to their environment?", 2003; Latus and Kujawa, 2005)

  • Negative Impacts
  • household pest

Conservation Status

The breeding population of Ciconia ciconia declined during most of the twentieth century. This population decline was largely due to the destruction of suitable feeding habitats because of intensified agricultural development. However, white stork populations have rebounded by 20% in recent years because of land use policies, particularly in Spain and eastern European countries. Conservation efforts include preserving wetlands through the EcoFund Foundation and the Polish Society of Wildlife Friends. Preserving wetlands is not the only conservation effort. White storks can also build their huge nests on rooftops. In areas where they are not tolerated or nests are deemed dangerous, the Polish Pro-Natura Society removes and relocates them. White stork populations in Poland are especially healthy, it is said that 1 in every 4 white storks is "Polish." ("How do white storks adapt to their environment?", 2003; Goutner, et al., 1993; "Living Lakes", 2005)

Other Comments

White storks are important cultural icons in Europe. The arrival of a white stork was once thought to herald the arrival of a new baby. They are also the official birds of Lithuania and part of the symbol for the city of The Hague, Netherlands.


Tanya Dewey (author, editor), Animal Diversity Web.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.


uses sight to communicate

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born


BBC. 2003. "How do white storks adapt to their environment?" (On-line). Science and Nature: Animals. Accessed January 24, 2006 at

Living Lakes Partnership. 2005. "Living Lakes" (On-line). White Stork Conservation: For Nature and People. Accessed March 24, 2006 at

BirdGuides. 1999. "White Stork, Ciconia ciconia" (On-line). BirdGuides. Accessed March 20, 2006 at

Smithsonian National Zoological Park. 2001. "White Stork- fact sheet" (On-line). Accessed January 24, 2006 at

Wikipedia. 2006. "White Stork" (On-line). Wikipedia. Accessed March 20, 2006 at

Berthold, P., K. Michael, U. Querner. 2004. Long-term satellite tracking of white stork migration: constancy versus variability. J Ornithol, 145: 356-359.

Cramp, S., K. Simmons, I. Ferguson-Lees, R. Gillmor, P. Hollom, R. Hudson, E. Nicholson, M. Ogilvie, P. Olney, K. Voous, J. Wattel. 1977. Handbook of the Birds of Europe the Middle East and North Africa. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Goutner, V., V. Liordos, E. Tsachalidis. 1993. Growth of White Stork Ciconia ciconia nestlings. Ardea, 1: 133-137.

Latus, C., K. Kujawa. 2005. The effect of land cover and fragmentation of agricultural landscape on the density of white stork in Brandenburg, Germany. Polish Journal of Ecology, 53: 535-543.

Tryjanowski, P., T. Sparks, Z. Jakubiec, L. Jerzak, J. Kosicki, S. Kuzniak, P. Profus, J. Ptaszyk, A. Wuczynski. 2005. The relationship between population means and variances of reproductive success differs between local populations of white stork. The Society of Population Ecology and Springer-Verlag, 47: 119-125.

Tryjanowski, P., T. Sparks, J. Ptaszyk, J. Kosicki. 2004. Do White Storks always profit from an early return to their breeding grounds?. Bird Study, 51: 222-227.

Wuczynski, A. 2005. The turnover of White Storks on nests during spring migration. ACTA Ornithologica, 40: 83-85.