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What is a Stork?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 27 November 2016
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A stork is a large wading bird in the family Ciconiidae. These large, elegant birds can be found on every continent on Earth with the exception of Antarctica, and they have had long associations in human mythology and story telling. There are a wide array of stork species alive today, some of which are considered to be threatened or endangered, while other stork stocks are healthy, with no cause for concern.

The stork tends to prefer lowland environments in warm to temperate zones. These long legged birds wade gracefully through the water in search of prey which includes insects, amphibians, fish, and sometimes small birds. They also have long necks, with straight, powerful beaks designed to assist them in their hunting tasks, and the plumage of a stork varies widely, depending on the species.

Storks may live and hunt on the ground, but they like to nest up high. In communities near wetlands, storks have historically nested on people's roofs, and roof collapses as a result of large, messy stork nests have been recorded in places like the Netherlands. Storks will also nest on top of power poles and in other unlikely places, sometimes to their own peril.

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Many storks come together in colonies to breed, but prefer to live solitary lives when breeding season is over. These birds can look quite stunning in flight, as they try to save energy by soaring on thermals, leaving their long legs trailing and their necks outstretched. Storks are also voiceless, clattering their beaks, hissing, croaking, wheezing, and sometimes producing vague honking noises to communicate.

The history of the stork is very entwined with human habitation. Many cultures have their own distinct myths about the stork, ranging from Bulgaria, where storks are harbingers of spring, to Ancient Egypt, where the stork was the personification of a person's ba, or individual character. Storks have also long been associated with fertility, with many cultures believing that a large stork nest on the roof is a sign of prosperity, good luck, and children in the near future. This myth explains why storks are linked with babies in the West, where thanks to Victorian reticence about discussing the origins of children, mothers started saying “The stork brought you” in response to the age-old question of “Where did I come from?”

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