Every year in late autumn, I hear comments regarding the White Storks returning to their nests, back from their African journey. It is not quite as simple as that because the migration patterns of the White Stork throughout Europe have changed and the Algarve seems to be an important location for many European Storks during migration. For the Algarve-based (and lower Alentejo) Storks, many simply never leave, but why?
Historically, White Storks would leave their nesting grounds between late September and early October heading south to the warm climate of Africa before returning to breed in late January and into early February. However, it seems that many decide to stay in Portugal and after reading tracking reports of northern European White Storks, it seems that many of these reach the Algarve and proceed no further.
You are probably thinking that I am about to start writing about how global warming has made this possible. While this may be a factor in the birds feeling more comfortable in the warmer Algarve winter, it is another human-made reason for this change.
Rubbish! Yes, trash! If you head to the large “Aterro Sanitário do Barlavento” rubbish dump near Odelouca to the west of Silves you are likely to see hundreds, even thousands of White Storks soaring above the dump. If you were to enter the site, you would witness many on the ground rummaging through the rubbish. These often graceful-looking giants are not as graceful-looking when you see them sifting through the dirty waste. Rubbish dumps have become junk food in the world of the White Stork.
The natural food of Storks is small insects through to small mammals such as mice. They also catch amphibians which is why you often see them wading in water.
They are a farmer’s best-friend as they clean many of the pests from crop fields. An interesting fact is that this also in turn helps honey producers as it provides more flowers on the crops for the Honeybees.
White Storks are very adaptable and the increase in humans and the waste we produce gives the White Storks easy fast food. Most rubbish dumps have a limited life span, and it will be interesting to see what happens when and if the dump at Odelouca reaches the end of its life and closes.
So why do the localised birds return to the nest sites so early? That is an interesting point that I do not personally know. I suspect that the birds leave their nesting sites in autumn and relocate to meeting locations. One of these sites is near Odelouca where in late autumn the fields turn white with so many Storks present. I suspect that many of the Algarve birds feed at the dump for a few weeks before returning to their home grounds. The nests are not required outside the breeding season of spring and summer, but many seem to take residence back on the nests. This could be to take early rights to the nests. White Storks always return to the same nest every year and it is thought that the size of the nest is an indication to how successful it has been at producing new chicks. Although the nests have the same birds returning every year, it does not stop other White Storks looking for a new nest. Sometimes youngsters will challenge them or in some cases their nest may have been destroyed, so they will attack and fight in the air which is a spectacle to be seen, usually in February.
I have been an admirer of White Storks for many years and often point a camera at them. In fact, my best-selling print to date (plug: which is available on my webshop!) is a silhouette of a pair titled “Lovers At Sunset” which really shows a powerful image of love. Every February, I run a photography walking tour around the city of Silves, everyone is welcome, even if you do not own a camera. My website will be updated in the new year but of course the pandemic may have an unfortunate bearing on this trip.
By Craig Rogers
Craig Rogers is a wildlife and nature photographer from Wales now living in the Algarve, offering photography workshops. For more information, photographs and his blog visit www.craigrogers.photography
Photos: Craig Rogers Nature