Meet a bird who raises children on high voltage wires

A stork bird with it's nest on electrical wires.

Storks favor a nesting place in a prominent place, such as the top of a tall tree, although they will sometimes make do with a modern-day counterpart, an electrical pole."
But for centuries, rooftops, churches, and chimneys throughout Europe have been favorite nesting sites.

Picture of a stork walking on a rooftop.

Both the male and the female bird patiently build the nest, an extraordinary structure that may well look as if it will topple off its perch at any moment.

Picture of a stork pair and their nest.

But appearances can be deceptive, and the large nests are rarely dislodged even during the most violent storms.

So durable are the nests that the storks on returning each year usually just spend a week or so making minimal repairs to their home.

This repair work, which involves adding twigs and other material, is usually done by both storks as soon as they arrive from their winter quarters.

And eventually, it is this repair work that brings about the nest’s demise—it just collapses under its own weight.

By that time the nest may well be as much as seven feet [2 m] high and three or more feet [a meter or more] in diameter.

Just as the parents return to their nest every spring, so the offspring try to find a site as near as possible to their place of hatching.

Thus, some old buildings become host to a dozen or more enormous nests, all occupied by descendants of one original pair.

Comings and Goings

Picture of storks on a tree.

Some European storks winter in West Africa south of the Sahara, while others travel as far as South Africa.

They start the long journey south in August. As they are not strong fliers, the journey is done in stages.

They prefer to migrate in groups of varying size, and often all the storks in a certain area will join up before departing on their migration.

Being among the earliest migratory birds to return north, they arrive back at their nests in February or March.

Picture of stork birds migrating.

Because of their size—they have a wingspan of about six feet [1.8 m]—and their dependability, migrating storks have always attracted attention.

The distance they travel every year—a round-trip of over ten thousand miles [16,000 km] in some cases—is remarkable, all the more so considering that they glide most of the way.

Like the large birds of prey, they rely on thermals, rising bodies of hot air, to gain altitude, after which they take advantage of their broad wings to glide effortlessly for long distances, only rarely beating their wings.

A unique feature of the storks’ migration is their passage across the Mediterranean. They prefer not to travel over water, where thermals are absent.

Thus, every August thousands of storks congregate to make the crossing at the two points where the distance over the water is the shortest (the Strait of Gibraltar and the Bosporus).

Surprisingly, the long journey across the Sahara Desert does not daunt them as much as the nine-mile [14 km] stretch of water separating Spain and Africa, which can take them as much as five hours.

Storks and Babies

Picture of a stork carrying a baby.

For centuries, children have been told that babies are brought by storks, and storks still feature prominently on cards congratulating parents on the birth of a baby.

Where did the story originate?

Apparently, the idea is based on two legends. Years ago, people noticed that storks appeared seemingly miraculously each year at the same time.

Some thought that they went to Egypt during the winter months and became men, only to revert to being birds in the spring (this explained their attachment to human dwellings).

It was also noticed that storks spent most of the day feeding in marshy areas, which were said to be the dwelling place of the souls of newborn babies.

As storks were birds that were most solicitous parents, it did not require too much imagination for people to link fact and fiction and come up with the notion that babies were brought by storks.

The stork—traditional harbinger of spring, babies, and good fortune—has long held a special place in human’s myths and affections.

Its graceful flight, its affinity for human settlements, and its useful role in controlling agricultural pests have all contributed to its popular image.

But perhaps its most endearing feature is its faithfulness—faithfulness to its nest, to which it returns every year, and loyalty to its mate, with which it forms a lifelong bond.

In fact, its name in Hebrew means “loyal one” or “one of loving-kindness” because, as the Talmud explains, it is a creature distinguished for treating its mate with affection.

Thanks to this popular image, nearly two hundred years ago the stork was a protected species in Holland and, reportedly, tame storks could be seen strutting around the fish market of The Hague.

It was later made the national bird of Germany. And nowadays, in some European towns, platforms are erected on roofs to encourage this friendly bird to nest on them. Storks are welcome neighbors!

Let hope this altitude will persist into the future!