Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The love life of White Storks

There is a lot of bill clattering going on at the moment. It is the sound of White Storks expressing their affection for one another. It doesn't sound very romantic or melodic, but it's the best storks can do. They don't have the vocal chords of Nightingales. They don't have any vocal chords at all.

Storks don't have any inhibitions either. Hence, they don't mind conducting all aspects of their domestic affairs in full public view. Just as well they're monogamous and pair for life. Actually, that's not always strictly true, but since time immemorial they have been regarded as the epitome of fidelity.

The same cannot be said of all birds, of course. Some species of sweet-sounding songbirds are wantonly polygamous. Some demure shore birds are rather secretly polyandrous. There's none of that sort of rampant two-timing with storks.

The bill-clatterers are currently occupying nests atop old factory chimneys, church towers and other prominent vantage spots, often in the middle of villages, towns and cities. They are perfectly safe up there. Humans don't interfere with them because, as we all know, from time to time they bring along human babies. Less well-known is their legendary ability to tell the future.

If a pair of storks decide to build a nest on a heavy-duty crane towering over a building site, such is their mythology that it can cause a dilemma for the building contractor. Work will probably have to halt. A few years ago a nest of storks delayed the filling of Portugal's newest and biggest man-made lake by five weeks. It only resumed after the youngsters were old enough to leave the nest.

White Storks always nest within a short flight of meadowlands, marshlands or riverbanks. These are their preferred habits for stalking around on long legs and prodding with long beaks for small mammals, large insects, lizards, snakes, frogs and fish.

Widespread environmental destruction and use of pesticides have caused the collapse of stork populations in some parts of Europe over the past half century. Mercifully, they are still fairly plentiful in the Algarve all year round.

For the next few months they will be concentrating on raising families (like this couple atop a Silves supermarket). Mature adults are now adding sticks to the same nests they used last year and the year before. The males will stay on the great big bundle of sticks most of the time, only leaving to feed. The females will lay four eggs this month or next. Both parents will take in turn to incubate, with much bill-clattering at changeover times.

When the eggs hatch after about five weeks, the dual-care duties will continue unabated. Both males and females will feed the young for another two months or so before the offspring are ready to take to the air. Some of them will disperse. Others, both immature birds and adults, will congregate in large flocks in favoured localities during the autumn and winter months.

Apart from their passionate bill-clattering during the breeding season, White Storks throughout the year have another endearing characteristic. They like to take time out to soar around on thermal wind currents with their long wings fully outstretched, giving the distinct impression that they're at ease and without a care in the world.

Okay, admittedly this blog is anthropomorphism run riot, but maybe there's a lesson here for us all.

No comments: