A stork in ice and snow


The White stork Ciconia ciconia is a well-known migrant, moving from Europe down to Africa (either via the Iberian Peninsula or via the Middle East) during the winter. Increasingly, however, birds are choosing to over-winter in Europe. The numbers are startling: in southern France, eight birds over-wintered in 1996-1997, but 172 did so in 2003-2004 (Archaux et al. 2004).


This winter, one individual over-wintered at Lake Mjøsa, near Hamar, Norway. Nicknamed 'Sture' [shown at top of article], it scavenged at a local rubbish dump and (as of early January) was surviving night temperatures of -15-20°; C. Does anyone know if 'Sture' is still alive? Increasingly, one reads of small passerines and other migrants over-wintering in their traditional summer breeding grounds, but it's less well known that large migrants like storks are doing the same thing. Why is this behaviour apparently on the increase? Incidentally, while travelling through Spain in December last year I saw an over-wintering White stork myself: here it is (photo by Bob Loveridge).

One more thing: while it's well known that White storks spend summer in Europe and winter in Africa, less well known is that the species also occurs in west-central Asia. These birds migrate into India during the winter, and are regarded as a separate subspecies, the Asiatic white stork C. c. asiatica (not to be confused with the extremely similar Oriental stork C. boyciana of China and Japan, previously regarded as another C. ciconia subspecies). Members of the European white stork subspecies C. c. ciconia may also winter in India.

Many thanks to Erik Knatterud for passing on the information about 'Sture'. Some of you will know that Lake Mjoesa is already famous for quite different reasons...

Ref - -

Archaux, F., Balança, G., Henry, P.-V. & Zapata, G. 2004. Wintering of White storks in Mediterranean France. Waterbirds 27, 441-445.

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There have been several reintroduction programmes for White Stork in western europe, some of them using captive bred birds. The objective is to boost local numbers of birds. However, the Swedish project at least used birds of North African origin, and this may account for a tendency to lose the migratory instinct (Ola Osson, Conservation Biology Oct 2007). On the other hand, warmer winters may simply mean they don't bother - the Eurasian cranes in Norfolk are permanent residents even though they are migratory on mainland Europe.

Important part was learning to forage on rubbish dumps.

Who knows, maybe marabous will colonize Europe? ;-)

The lone stork is still about, flying between the rubbish dump to scavenge food amidst a swarm of crows, the nearby river with open water (so far) and its night rest somewhere. Ornithologists have not suceeded in capturing the stork to send it to warmer Spain, but the next 2-3 weeks will be critical as the weather is predicted to get even colder.

African lions playing in the snow is also a strange sight. The zoo of Kristiansand aired their lions the other day, and the half year old cubs had a smashing time romping about in the mysterious white powder with their mother.

By Erik Knatterud (not verified) on 31 Jan 2009 #permalink

You can watch seven pictures of the happy lions that were out in the snow on Monday this week, at this link:

The zoo also got a breeding pair of Amur tigers, as they participate in breeding programmes with other zoos.
The zoo got chimps too, Mike.

African lions are not endangered animals yet, so it is a shame that in general zoos display brown bears and lions to the public, as their cuddly offspring routinely are euthanized when the cubs grow up and are not cute any more and no other zoos want the surplus animals.
Hilarious thought, our west coast got plenty of red deer and parts of it would serve nicely as a reserve habitat for the Siberian snow tiger, but I`d be lynched if I proposed a tiger reserve. People in some districts already got a handful with returning brown bears and wolves.

By Erik Knatterud (not verified) on 31 Jan 2009 #permalink

Yes, for some unfathomable reason non-migrating algerian storks were used for reintroduction into Sweden. Now they are trying to introduce migratory polish birds instead. But for now we have a non-migrating stork population in Scania which really can't survive the winters without constant help by humans. The stork in Norway is probably one of those.
The Lions in snow on the other hand really isn't very remarkable, even discounting the Cave Lion (which may have been a separate species), there were lions in Anatolia, the Balkans and Ukraine as recently as 2000 years ago, and those must have survived snowy winters in the wild.
However seeing Japanese Macaques in deep snow in the mountains *is* weird.

By Tommy Tyrberg (not verified) on 31 Jan 2009 #permalink

Occassional storks tried to winter in Poland since long time, but usually were fed and helped by people. But since about 10 years, some storks survived winter without being fed.

Interesting how migratory instinct in birds works. Supposedly, difference between migrating to South Africa and not migrating would be genetically huge?

One problem this may cause is pollution.

The Geese where I live have been spending their winters in New York more and more so. The result is that they excrement all over the place, more then they would if they were migrating.

Maybe a poo-eating species will benefit, but until then, the pollution is a horrible nuisance.

My theory to this is the possibility that perhaps birds have a part of them that has a super-imposed migration route. By that, I mean, if you could plot a wave graph, with MAXs being summer locations and MINs being winter locations, perhaps this wave graph is along a more larger wave graph that is adopted for things like ice ages and climate patterns of change.

We humans have been here for too short a time period to see these grander-scaled patterns. You can't tell a pattern very well if your only looking at fractions of it. Perhaps we are approaching some sort of major climate pattern shift.

Could be individuals with a weaker migration instinct stay behind quite commonly, but die off quickly. Warmer climate conditions or they've found a warm site to sleep and/or the discovery of the food source at the dump allows some of the more winter hardy individuals to survive longer than they used to.

By Katkinkate (not verified) on 31 Jan 2009 #permalink

In German, stur means "stubborn".

The migration instinct seems to be completely genetic at least in passerines. So, mutation and selection determine how many of them overwinter where.

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 01 Feb 2009 #permalink

Hummingbirds (Anna's and other species) on the U.S. West Coast have been wintering considerably further north than they used to. Particularly right along the Oregon coast, which has a relatively mild winter climate anyhow, but also in the interior valleys like the Willamette. It probably has a lot to do with people putting out feeders in the winter and also planting a lot of exotic plants that flower outside the narrow spring-summer range of native plants. Global warming may be involved too, what with somewhat warmer winters recently.

Cranes and snow geese here (New Mexico) seem less genetically programmed than Passerines-- in warm winters like this one they head north early.

I wonder about such phenomena as birds staying north as warming continues-- could it be cold resistant (genetically) individuals or learned behavior?

Steve: I'm no expert on bird migration, but so far as I understand, migration behaviour is indeed less dependent on genetical factors in geese and cranes than it is in perching birds. Young geese and cranes (and presumably many other long-lived 'big birds') learn their migration routes by following their parents. This makes it possible for humans to manipulate the birds' migration behaviour and teach them new routes by example.

By contrast, in small passerines and in some other birds (e.g. Eurasian cuckoos Cuculus canorus, which are nest parasites whose young aren't raised by their real parents), migration routes seem to be wholly genetically determined. That doesn't mean that their migration behaviour can never change: that demonstrably does happen sometimes, but it requires novel genetic mutations to arise and be selected for. The classic example of this happening are the changes in the migration routes of the blackcap warbler Sylvia atricapilla; Berthold et al. (1992) were able to show that these changes have a genetic basis.

As I said, I'm not an expert on this subject, but I can give you a few general literature suggestions, if you wish to explore this further:

Bearhop, S., Fiedler, W., Furness, R.W., Votier, S.C., Waldron, S., Newton, J., Bowen, G.J., Berthold, P. & Farnsworth, K. 2005. Assortative mating as a mechanism for rapid evolution of a migratory divide. Science 310, 502-504.

Berthold, P., Helbig, A.J., Mohr, G. & Querner, U. 1992. Rapid microevolution of migratory behaviour in a wild bird species. Nature 360, 668-670.

Pulido, F. 2007. The genetics and evolution of avian migration. BioScience 57, 165-174.

Sutherland, W.J. 1998. Evidence for flexibility and constraint in migration systems. Journal of Avian Biology 29, 441-446.

A quick update on Sture the stork. It seems to have succeeded in surviving the winter in Norway, battling freezing inland January and February temperatures as low as 28 Celsius degrees, thus beating the ones who tried to winter in 2005, 2007 and 2008 along the coast where temperatures ought to be more favourable. Now at mid March it obviously got restless and flew east towards an area at the Swedish border, an area with mostly desolate forests. It stays near a river that flows south to the largest of Sweden's lakes.
The snow cover is still heavy but a mild thaw has set in.

By Erik Knatterud (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink