There are few birds as well known as the White Stork. This tall white bird, blended with black flight feathers and bright red bill and legs is found in numerous countries throughout the world. So widely spread is the stork that if features as a prominent figure in many cultures. The Egyptians, Greeks and Chinese are amongst those that associate some symbolic role for this species.
The stork has been revered in Europe at least since the Middle Ages. It is believed that this is so due to the fact that they have been building their nests on man-made structures since then. They can be found on rooftops, towers, chimneys, telephone-poles, walls, haystacks, and specially constructed nest towers.
These birds are phenomenal migrants. Each year more than 500,000 storks migrate to Africa, flying southwards from their breeding grounds in Europe. They cover huge distances in the search of warmth and food. Already, as we speak, White Storks have started landing at Londolozi Game Reserve. Their place of origin: more than likely Germany. I did a quick calculation and the approximate distance as the ‘stork flies’ in miles from Johannesburg, South Africa to Frankfurt, Germany is 5385 miles or 8664.47 Kilometers! It has taken them 4-5 months to make this mammoth flight. They are perhaps among the most visible of migrating birds because of their close association with humans and their tendency to congregate in air thermals en route. They truly are on of the great migratory species of the world.
Migration aside, there is one aspect which I find even more fascinating about this bird: their association with babies…
Everybody knows about the story of the stork delivering babies to people’s houses. But where did this myth come from?
Some say that this myth has its origin in Pagan times, when civilizations were keen to have high birthrates. The myth of storks and babies was forged by the birds’ return in spring, when many babies were born. The legend is very ancient, but was popularised by a 19th century Hans Christian Andersen story called The Storks. Although they originally nested in trees, storks are very tolerant of human activity, and today in Europe their most common nest site is on rooftops. German folklore held that storks found babies in caves or marshes and brought them to households in a basket held in their beaks. The babies would be dropped down the chimney of a hopeful mother. Households would notify when they wanted children by placing sweets for the stork on the window sill.
It appears that the Storks close association with chimneys and roof tops and their arrival from migration, during human birth time peaks, may have led to the popular image of a stork delivering a little bundle of joy by dropping it down the chimney.
Written by Adam Bannister