The White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) is the unofficial symbol of Poland, where about 25% of European storks breed. In Western culture, the White Stork is a symbol of childbirth. In Victorian times the details of human reproduction were difficult to approach, especially in reply to a child’s question “Where did I come from?”
The answer was “The stork brought you to us” to avoid discussion of sex. This habit originated from the once popular superstition that storks were the heralds of happiness and prosperity. Storks are sometimes mistaken for herons, though almost all storks fly with their necks extended.
Standing 100 – 125 cm tall, this large, mostly white, Stork has black flight feathers in the wings, a straight red bill, and long red legs. The sexes are similar except that the male is usually larger and with a more massive bill. There are no dramatic differences between the non-breeding and breeding plumage.
Storks do not call. The only true vocalization by adults is a hissing, given primarily at the nest. The loud and prolonged clattering of the bill produces a rapid machine-gun-like rattle. Nestlings give a begging call that resembles the mewing of a cat.
They also clatter their soft bills, but without much sound. Young white storks return to the nest to be fed and continue to use the nest as a sleeping place until they migrate from the area.
Most storks nest in trees and feed in shallow water, although there are notable exceptions. The White Stork is famous for nesting on urban rooftops and other elevated, man-made structures such as power lines.
Most storks obtain food by slowly walking through suitable habitat until visual contact is made with a prey item, which is quickly captured with the tip of the bill and swallowed with the aid of a backward toss of the head. White storks may also prey on insects, especially on locust swarms.