White storks 'bring' the spring to Bavaria

By U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria, Directorate of Public Works, Environmental DivisionMarch 7, 2024

White stork in Grafenwoehr, Germany.
White stork in Grafenwoehr, Germany. (Photo Credit: Christopher Oney, Environmental Division, Directorate of Public Works, U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria) VIEW ORIGINAL

GRAFENWOEHR, Germany – Perhaps you have already seen them this year - the white storks of Grafenwoehr. Storks herald the beginning of spring!

Each year these migratory birds fly back to Europe from their winter quarters in Africa and Spain. They cover distances of up to 10,000 kilometers.

Lately, the white storks from western Germany, including those from Bavaria, avoid the long and dangerous journey across the strait of Gibraltar and simply stay in Spain, where they find enough food on garbage dumps and in rice fields to survive the winter. Due to climate change and the increasingly mild winters, some storks no longer migrate at all. Animals from rearing or settlement programs often stay in Europe during the cold season after being released into the wild. The following spring, these winter-hardy stork pairs have a huge advantage, they can choose the best nests long before other stork competition arrives from Spain or Africa. Once they arrive, the male storks usually occupy their old nests, freshen them up and look for a partner with their clattering beaks. Stork pairs raise their offspring together.

White storks in Grafenwoehr, Germany.
White storks in Grafenwoehr, Germany. (Photo Credit: Public Affairs Office, U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria) VIEW ORIGINAL

In 2023, the storks arrived in Grafenwoehr at the end of March and made themselves at home on the roof of the Culture and Military Museum and raised two young. If the young birds make it to adulthood, they can live up to 35 years! They can weigh up to 4.5 kilograms (10 pounds) and reach a size of up to one meter (3 feet) with a wingspan of up to two meters (6.5 feet)!

In Germany, there are many myths surrounding these large birds. They are considered lucky charms and are said to bring babies. Traditionally, storks were used to help parents explain the origin of babies. This custom is still practiced today - nowadays, when a baby is born, the parents' house is often decorated with a wooden stork and washing lines.

Despite its popularity, the stork population was threatened previously, and the species was listed on the Red List of Threatened and Endangered Species. Land consolidation, land drainage, electricity pylons and a lack of nesting opportunities made life difficult for the storks. Protective measures were taken in the 1980s, allowing the population to recover. Since 2016, the white stork is no longer considered endangered and there is a good chance of observing these lucky birds in Grafenwoehr!

If you are interested in the journey of local storks – check out the following website : https://www.lbv.de/naturschutz/artenschutz/voegel/weissstorch/satelliten-telemetrie/

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The Environmental Division provides environmental guidance, support, and liaison services to those who live, work, and train on our installations. U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria training areas are unique refuges for many animal and plant species. Ecological surveys conducted over the course of two decades have found more than 3,000 different plant and animal species - for each site. More than 900 of these species are legally protected and some are extremely rare. To learn more about the Environmental program visit https://home.army.mil/bavaria/environmental.