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The White Stork of Alsace: Emblem of Alsace, near-Extinction to Success Story; Fact File & Association with Babies

Updated on July 28, 2017
annart profile image

Ann loves to travel and has a particular interest in France. She speaks fluent French and has visited many areas of that wonderful country.

White Stork, Emblem of Alsace

Stand to Attention!  Time to Muster
Stand to Attention! Time to Muster | Source

A Room with a View

We looked out of our Munster hotel bedroom window in wonder. Atop a tree was a large concoction of twigs at least a metre wide and standing in the middle, on one leg, was a huge, red-billed, mainly white bird. The wing-tips, folded down, were black and his leg (I presumed the other also) matched the bill.

He stood, an elegant statue, motionless for at least ten minutes, the feathers below his long neck an impressive cream ruff. He and his mate had not long returned to Alsace from a nine month sojourn in North Africa . He had come back in early Spring, to rebuild the family nest, then she had followed later, to lay eggs. Together they would soon be caring for their offspring, usually four, who would migrate in early Autumn and the parents would follow some time later. An amazing instinct enables them to then find their offspring and they care for their young for a long time.

A second tree in the hotel garden supported two more nests. The oddest thing of all was the structure which contained the fourth nest. It was a man-made support, a concrete telegraph pole to all intent, with a circular, wire, low-rimmed basket at its summit. Into this bowl a couple of storks had woven twigs and the like to create their own home on this fabricated ‘tree’ and the female sat therein.

Why would man build such a thing for these birds? The answer lies in their history.


Man-Made 'Tree'

Nest built in a wire bowl
Nest built in a wire bowl | Source

Decline

In Munster, at the edge of the Vosges Mountains in Alsace, France, you will see white storks soaring overhead, walking in the fields and in the park. Their half-ton nests are on just about every rooftop as well as in the trees. The roofs inevitably acquire large white splashes all over them but no one seems to mind. Maybe the smell of the local Munster cheese helps to camouflage any odour. Some nests are in the trees, whereas others are placed in the man-made wire baskets.

It wasn’t always so. In 1983 the stork population of Alsace had dwindled to fewer than nine pairs. Several factors contributed to their demise; crashing into power lines during migration, African droughts depleting their winter food supplies and conflicts in Africa causing starving people to eat them.

The stork is Alsace’s emblem, a symbol of fertility and fidelity and the bringer of good luck to any household where it nests.


Building, nesting, sharing the town

Building
Building | Source
Tidying
Tidying | Source
Guarding
Guarding | Source
Edge of the Vosges Mountains, looking across to the Black Forest in Germany
Edge of the Vosges Mountains, looking across to the Black Forest in Germany | Source

Help

The Association for the Protection and Reintroduction of Storks in Alsace and Lorraine set up a programme to help save these birds from extinction and since then the stork population of Alsace has slowly risen to 600 pairs. The man-made ‘trees’ were constructed to allow every opportunity of nesting, power lines had markers added so that the birds could identify them and storks were killed less often for food.

The reintroduction of storks to Alsace initially involved keeping them in captivity. We were told that after three years they lost their instinct to migrate. However, when finally released into the wild, the young born subsequently possessed that instinct and migration began once again, though not all go to North Africa; some are content to stay in Spain. The White Stork is now a protected species.

Everywhere you look on the skyline, there are stork nests on the top of church steeples, in valleys between roofs and occupying precarious outposts of gable ends. Unfortunately luck will not visit you by way of a stork’s nest if you live in a house where there has been a divorce! However, birds and humans live in close proximity and seem to rely on each other.


Greeting Ritual

These birds have a remarkable greeting each time the male comes back to the nest. There is no stork ‘call’ but they clack their bills making a noise not unlike a pneumatic drill, at the same time stretching out their wings and throwing back their heads, each almost doubled onto its own back. I could have watched them for hours. The bill-clacking starts somewhere between 5 or 6 in the morning - make sure the shutters are closed!


Honey, I'm Home!

Bowing heads before throwing them back
Bowing heads before throwing them back | Source

Alsatian History & Language

Alsace, along with the department of Lorraine, has seen migrations of its own. Both departments of France have crossed the border and become German several times, during various invasions as well as during the World Wars. The Alsatian identity is therefore a mixture of both French and Germanic origins, as well as having a language and culture of its own. Does this also explain the German Shepherd dog also being referred to as an Alsatian?

The Alsatian language, comprised of two dialects (low and high Rhine districts), was in decline around about the same time as that of the storks. There was a campaign at the time which portrayed a grandfather and grandson walking along a street somewhere in Alsace. The little boy asked,

‘Grandfather, why don’t the storks come back to us any more?’

‘Well you see’, said his grandfather, ‘we no longer speak their language so they think they’ve come to the wrong place and move on.’

Fortunately, now they do come back to the right place and Alsace has its emblem restored.


A Week of Stork-Spotting

This is not difficult to do in Alsace, especially around Munster and Strasbourg, the main city of Alsace and of course the official seat of the European Parliament.

We never tired of looking upwards to the rooftops, down into the fields from our coach during excursions, or out of our hotel windows to watch their lives unfolding to and from their nests.

The stork is part of Alsace’s identity; if it goes, then so will Alsace. For such a huge bird to be seen walking happily near people in a park seems absurd but that’s what happens. For such a huge bird to build a massive nest on a ridiculously narrow ridge of a building seems absurd but that’s what happens. For such a huge bird to attract such affection, emotion and loyalty might seem absurd but that’s what happens and it’s wonderful.


Storks Everywhere

Housework
Housework | Source
You're safe with me, dear
You're safe with me, dear | Source
One of three nests in the trees outside the hotel
One of three nests in the trees outside the hotel | Source
Munster town, run by humans & storks side by side
Munster town, run by humans & storks side by side | Source

Storks & Humans

They are majestic, patient, tolerant, comical, statuesque and fascinating. Apart from seeing them everywhere we went, we were privileged to have a bird’s eye view (yes, really - from the second floor) of four pairs of storks for six days. Even during meals we could glance up to see a one-legged sentinel keeping guard over us all. I can understand why Alsatians love living side by side with these creatures.

I love exploring the countryside, bird-watching, keeping alert for that brief glimpse of a water-vole in the canal or a deer in the fields. The strange thing about Alsace is that nature comes to you; the storks enter the everyday hubbub of life. They are integral. In fact, in their own way, they run the town!


Protecting Birds, Animals & Ourselves

How can we not be inspired and intrigued by this majestic bird? It soars above the Vosges mountains and valleys, its neck stuck out in front (unlike its relative the heron which folds his) and its feet trailing. Its white body against a blue sky, black at each tip of its huge wing-span and its red bill a beacon for its body to follow, this bird never fails to draw the eye, to catch the imagination, to bring a smile.

How lucky we were to be able to observe four pairs of them at close quarters as they went about their daily business, occasionally posing for admirers; doubly lucky as their species faced extinction not long ago.

It is our duty to continue to protect not only these birds but many others of the animal kingdom. Imagine being without such creatures. Imagine the loss to nature, to the natural turn of the wild, to our wonderful world.

We must continue to be aware, to care for, to protect everything in our world which is vulnerable, threatened, unable to stand up for itself. That of course includes human beings and the environment which is life-blood to us all.


Stork Fact File

The White Stork’s species’ name is Ciconia ciconia. The French word for stork is ‘cigogne’ (pronounced ‘seegoynia’ so very similar to its Latin name).

They are wading birds and belong to the family Ciconiidae, the only family in the order Ciconiiformes which was once much larger and held a number of families.

Though they are wading birds, they usually live in much drier habitats than the closely related herons, spoonbills and ibises.

Storks eat frogs, mice, snakes and small birds (including their own if they are starving).

A stork can live for more than 30 years.

They are mute.

The collective noun for a group of storks is ‘muster of storks’ or ‘phalanx of storks’.

They soar and glide in flight, using thermal air currents, to conserve energy. They are heavy birds with wide wingspans.

Nests are large and often used for many years, possibly growing to two metres across and three metres deep!


Storks & Babies

‘Mummy, where do babies come from?’ How many people still tell the story that the Stork brings the baby cradled in a sheet hanging from its beak as it flies?

In Greek mythology storks stole babies. Hera turned her rival into a stork, and the stork-woman attempted to steal her son.

Egyptian mythology used a stork to represent the soul. The return of a stork signified the return of the soul, when the person came ‘alive’ again.

In Norse mythology, the stork stood for family values and commitment to one another.

Storks were believed to mate for life, so have become a symbol of fidelity. In fact, they don’t always mate for life but they do tend to come back to the same nests every year and usually mate with the same partner.

The stork’s natural behaviour gives credence to their link with the arrival of babies and with fertility. The symbolism of their migration pattern along with their history in myths and legends explains the continued use of ‘the stork brings the baby’. Many human babies are conceived in the Summer or early Autumn, as are the storks’, so tend to arrive in Spring as the storks arrive in Europe.


Resources

‘The White Storks of Alsace’: http://www.butterfield.com

Storks’ association with babies: www.todayifoundout.com

Some facts & 1 photo from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ciconia_ciconia_-Alsace_-France_-8.jpg

Living Side by Side

Do you think we should go to such lengths to preserve a species?

See results

© 2015 Ann Carr

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    • annart profile image
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      Ann Carr 3 months ago from SW England

      Thanks for the visit, Glenis. Yes, that whole area has the storks for neighbours. I originally saw them in Strasbourg and have been fascinated by them since.

      Glad you popped by to read this.

      Ann

    • Glenis Rix profile image

      Glenis Rix 3 months ago from UK

      Some great photographs Ann! I didn't know the Greek legend that storks stole babies. A couple of years ago I spent a night in Colmar, breaking a return to the UK from Italy. There were storks nests on some of the chimney pots - wish I had photographed them.

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 17 months ago from SW England

      Another visit from you Peggy! How lovely you are to read my hubs; it's much appreciated.

      Yes the storks are brilliant to watch and they don't care a jot that humans watch them everywhere. I love just about any bird and this one has many tales to tell!

      Ann

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 17 months ago from Houston, Texas

      It must have been wonderful getting to view the storks up close as you got to do. This is a fascinating article. I am glad that the species was saved from extinction. Sharing and pinning to my birds board. All of the mythology associated with storks is also interesting.

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 23 months ago from SW England

      Blond Logic: That must have been a sight! I didn't see any when we went to Portugal, sadly.

      Yes, I love watching birds of any sort. They are certainly ingenious and know when they're onto a good thing.

      Thanks for reading and for your comments.

      Ann

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 23 months ago from Brazil

      We saw storks nesting in Portugal on the signs over a 4 lane highway! Not the ideal place to nest I shouldn't think.

      They are as you say, so interesting to observe.

      Bird watching in general is such a natural past time. I think it is why it's enjoyed by so many.

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Thank you, mary, for your lovely comments, the votes and the share. Yes, the greeting is quite something to watch and it's each time they reunite, not just once a day!

      Ann

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Thank you, Shyron. They are amazing and they take no notice at all of the humans around them! I appreciate your stopping by.

      Ann

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 2 years ago from Florida

      This is one of the most interesting Hubs I've read lately! I certainly learned a lot about the Stork by reading your article.

      I've never seen a stork, but I'd certainly like to. I love the way the male and female greet one another!

      Voted UP, etc. and shared.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 2 years ago from Texas

      What magnificent birds. Yes Ann we should try to keep every living species alive.

      I would love to see the beautiful birds in person, although we do have a lot of birds around here.

      Blessings and hugs dear friend.

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      chef-de-jour: Thank you for your kind words, votes and share.

      Yes, the stork is a truly wondrous bird and deserves all the protection it can get, as do most birds and animals of course.

      Good to see you!

      Ann

    • chef-de-jour profile image

      Andrew Spacey 2 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

      I saw similar storks in Bulgaria, probably the same species I think, and what a treat to watch them on a sunny Sunday morning riding the thermals above the small village of Voditsa where we were staying. And then to catch them stately in the fields taking a break from feeding as we trundled past them on the train back to Sofia.

      Really enjoyed your writing Ann, I can tell your observations are spot on. The extra information and good news made for an excellent all round read.

      Votes and a share for the wondrous stork.

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Hello again, Jo! Thanks for reading this; glad you enjoyed it.

      Yes, I never thought of that; there are a lot of birds which 'must' remain for a place to keep its name, one way or another. The photos are courtesy of my partner. Between us, we clock up thousands of shots - very useful!

      I appreciate your support. Good to see you.

      Ann

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 2 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      An Interesting read! It's funny how myths and legends are used to protect birds in and around historical places. Rather like the six ravens and the tower of London. Great photos and a wonderful share.

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Thanks Mel. Yes, intertwined is very apt here. It's a must to protect them all. There are many people who don't realise just how much they influence our lives, practically and emotionally.

      Thanks for popping by this morning. Good to see you, as always.

      Ann

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      We must absolutely protect these birds that are so delicately intertwined with the human spirit as to be inseperable. Great hub!

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Akriti Makku: Thank you for reading. Yes, it is sad; fortunate for this bird though, thank goodness.

      Ann

    • Akriti Mattu profile image

      Akriti Mattu 2 years ago from Shimla, India

      Thanks for sharing this post with us. A lot more people should read it. It saddens me to see awesome varieties of flora and fauna getting wiped off from the face of the Earth.

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Thank you, Frank. Yes it's good to see a success story and we must keep doing our bit.

      Mother's Day in Britain is in March but thanks for the thoughts anyway. I'm missing my children and grandchildren at the moment but will get back to them next week.

      All the best to you too.

      Ann

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Hello Alicia. They are impressive. I'd seen them before but only flying around; to see them like this was truly breathtaking.

      Glad you enjoyed this and thank you for reading and commenting. I have some of your hubs to catch up on!

      Ann

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Thank you poetryman. Yes, a humorous campaign by the French!

      I appreciate you stopping by and commenting.

      Ann

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Thanks, Dolores, for your comment, vote and share. I'd never seen them before I visited Alsace some years ago.

      Good to see you today.

      Ann

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Thanks, Nell, for popping in today and commenting. They are amazing birds and seem incongruous in a town until you get used to them.

      Thanks so much for the votes and share.

      Ann

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton

      I love to hear success stories when it comes to wildlife.. we move into their territory and cause them harm.. but it feels good now that we all see the need to save not only our storks.. but so many other species on the extinction course.. and of course for many centuries, the white Alsace storks have been a yearly presence during the warmer months, hate to see that come to an end.. thank you for this hub bless you and Happy mother's day if it applies to you..:) Frank

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is an interesting and very enjoyable hub, Ann. The white stork is definitely an impressive bird! Thanks for sharing the information and the photos. I'd love to be able to observe the storks as you have done.

    • Romeos Quill profile image

      Romeos Quill 2 years ago from Lincolnshire, England

      A very educational article Anne, accompanied by some eye-catching photography on your part. The panorama over the tracts of land governing the Black Forest is remarkable and the penultimate pic of the Munster building boasts some fine architecture to garnish the snaps of the storks themselves which are beautiful, almost regal-looking.

      I hope you receive some more sunshine to enhance your enjoyment there.

      Warm Regards nevertheless;

      R.Q.

    • poetryman6969 profile image

      poetryman6969 2 years ago

      An interesting hub. I especially liked the fanciful notion of the birds being affected by changes in human language.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 2 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Hi Ann, the only thing I knew about these magnificent white birds is from cartoons, which is saying that I knew nothing. I did not realize that their population had been so depleted. How terrible! Glad to hear that they are making a comeback. (voted up and shared)

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

      Hi Ann, that is one big bird to have living on your roof! lol! this was fascinating, and who have guessed they can live 30 years? great to know that they are being looked after, they are amazing creatures, great read Ann, and voted up and shared, nell

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Thank you, melissa. Glad you enjoyed this and I'm happy to bring them to your attention!

      Ann

    • melissae1963 profile image

      Melissa Reese Etheridge 2 years ago from Tennessee, United States

      This is so interesting. I have heard of storks, but never knew anything about them.

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      RTalloni: Thanks for a great comment. Glad you enjoyed this. Hope you can get back to see the photos; they are amazing birds.

      Yes, we all need to step up and protect our world.

      Ann

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 2 years ago from the short journey

      What a neat read, and so informative. Enjoyed how you wove personal observation into the details. For some reason all the photos are not showing up for me so I'll come back to enjoy them a bit later. "…but that what happens, and it's wonderful." I'll be smiling about that comment all day. :) It is an amazing world we live in and the charge to be good stewards of creation and all that is in it is to be taken seriously. Thanks for sharing with us the success in Alsace! I'm not finding share buttons lately but I believe I'll pin this on my Solve It: Community board.

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Hello again, Theresa! Thanks for your lovely comments and for the votes. It is a remarkable place and this time I owe all the photos to my partner.

      Yes, I noticed a few hubs regarding Mothers' Day; we had ours back in March and we seem to be the only country that doesn't have it in May. I've no idea why! Happy Mother's Day to you, dear Theresa!

      Blessings to you too.

      Ann

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 2 years ago from southern USA

      Oh, Ann, your photos are amazing and I am thrilled you were able to get so much and up close too. You have shared an important message here in this hub full of facts. What a fascinating town.

      Thank you for taking us along on your trip. I knew you would have something interesting to share from your travels and beautiful photos to boot!

      Up ++++ tweeting, pinning and sharing

      It is Mother's Day weekend here in the US.

      Well done as always!

      Peace and blessings

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Thanks, Flourish, for your kind words and encouragement, as always.

      I think it is genetic memory, made for a purpose so not easily shrugged off I suppose. Remarkable whatever the reason!

      Glad it was educational too; never thought about it from that angle, just pouring out what I'd learnt throughout our week away.

      Thanks for visiting.

      Ann

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      Absolutely beautiful and very educational, too. I loved it and learned a lot about these birds. I found it so interesting that after our loving intervention they got forgot/unlearned migration then subsequent generations seemed to pick it back up (albeit not all of them, and not always the same). Genetic memory? Great hub!

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Thanks DJ! Yes, I knew there'd be one at least! You made me laugh out loud.

      They are a miracle I suppose, when you think that there were only 9 pairs left.

      Glad you liked this and thanks for your comments and humour.

      Ann

    • profile image

      DJ Anderson 2 years ago

      Ann, in all honesty, I think it is a miracle that these storks

      have survived, at all. Having only one leg to bounce around on

      shows decisive determination for the species to thrive. What

      amazing balance these birds must have!!

      You had to know there would be one wise ass in the bunch!! ha, ha

      Serious, now: This is an amazing article on the history of the White Storks of Alsace. Great information and lovely pictures bring this hub

      to life. Great read!

      DJ.

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Thanks, Susan! Good to see you.

      Yes, I like learning collective nouns and this one seems to fit well. The stork does look a bit military sometimes.

      We were so privileged to get a close look at these lovely birds.

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

      Ann

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Hello, bill! Great to see you. Thanks for your supportive words and kind compliment.

      It is difficult sometimes to maintain the balance between nature and economy but usually it's greed that wins through rather than common sense or practicalities. There are times when we can't save a species but that doesn't mean we give up trying!

      Wonderful to get a 'brilliant' from you, bill!

      You have a great weekend too.

      Ann

    • Susan Hambidge profile image

      Susan Hambidge 2 years ago from Hertfordshire, England

      This is really interesting and the photos are great. A 'muster of storks' - I must remember that pub quiz fact!

      Thumbs up from me

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Yes, this was an article about a bird, but you refused to take the easy way out. You took the time to write an interesting introduction and as a writer and avid reader, I appreciate that. We had a big stink here several decades ago about saving the Spotted Owl. The courts eventually cut back on a huge percentage of logging in this state to protect the bird's habitat. As you can imagine, in a state where lumber was huge for the economy, that did not go over well. Still, if you don't protect the species, where are we as a race? Sooner or later that line has to be drawn in the sand and you say ENOUGH with progress. We need to hold on to the beauty that is around us.

      In other words, a brilliant article.

      Happy weekend my friend. Thanks for sharing this.

      bill