Storks are medium to large wading birds, birds who walk through shallow water in search of food. They have long legs, long necks, powerful bills and broad, strong wings. Male and female storks look alike. Scientists think they are more closely related to the vultures of North and South America than to other long-legged wading birds such as herons.
Most of the nineteen kinds of storks have feathers that are different combinations of white, black, and gray, and many have brightly colored bills. Storks are 30 to 60 inches (75 to 152 centimeters) long from beak to tail, and they weigh between 2.9 and 19.7 pounds (1.3 and 8.9 kilograms).
Storks are found on all continents except Antarctica. Most live in the warm areas of Europe, Asia, and Africa. The wood stork is the only kind that lives that lives in North America.
Storks are found in a wide variety of habitats. Many live in or near wetlands with shallow water. Some, such as the marabou (MARE-uh-boo), prefer drier grasslands within flying distance of rivers or lakes. Black storks nest in the forests of Europe and Asia near pools and rivers. Some storks do not mind living near people and some nest on buildings in European towns and cities.
Storks are carnivorous, meat-eaters. They eat many different kinds of animals found in or near water, including fish, frogs, insects, and snails. Some storks hunt for food by feeling underwater with their sensitive bills. Others watch for their prey and grab it. Marabou storks sometimes feed on carrion, dead and decaying flesh, just as vultures do. Since a marabou’s head and neck are bare, it can poke deep inside a dead animal’s body without messing its feathers.
BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION
Storks can soar high in the sky on rising warm air currents, and most of them fly with their necks and legs stretched out. Much of the year, storks keep to themselves or form small flocks. But at breeding time, some storks nest in big groups called colonies, while others nest alone or in small groups.
Storks have various courtship displays, including dancing movements and loud bill clattering. Both parents help build platform nests of sticks and twigs, usually in trees. They raise an average of five chicks, and the young storks are ready to have families of their own when they are between three and five years old.
STORKS AND PEOPLE
Most people who live near storks are fond of the birds and want to protect them. Having storks around is a sign of good luck for some communities. Tourists enjoy going places where they can see the big birds. Storks are also the topic of many stories, myths, and folk tales. Some people hunt them for food because they are big and have a lot of meat.
The Oriental white stork, Storm’s stork, and the greater adjutant are listed as Endangered, facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild. The lesser adjutant and the milky stork are considered Vulnerable, facing a high risk of extinction in the wild. Also many populations of storks are declining because the places they need to live are being taken over by human building projects. Wood storks are not listed as endangered in most places, but they are on the U.S. Endangered Species List.