White Storks of the Algarve

Springtime is almost upon us and the early mornings are a chorus of returning song birds competing to attract a mate. One returning bird has no such song as they lack the ability to sing; the amazing White Stork. Known in Portuguese as “Cegonha-branca”, these large graceful birds return to the same nest every year after their winter break in central Africa.

The White Stork is a monogamous bird, meaning they partner for life; however, studies have shown exceptions to this. Sexing these birds is difficult as both male and female are identical; the only guide is that the male is usually slightly larger. At 125cm tall, the White Stork is a large bird with a wingspan of around 215cm.

As you can imagine, their nests are huge and unmistakable, built on any supporting structure from chimneys, dead palm trees and electricity poles. They prefer to nest inland although here in the Algarve you will find nests on cliffs, which happens nowhere else in the world. The lower parts of the nest commonly provide homes for smaller birds such as the House, Tree and Spanish Sparrow. Their nests are protected by law in Portugal and approval is required to remove them.

As they lack the ability to sing or call, White Storks can make a quiet hissing sound (the young birds’ hiss is louder and can break into a pitiful squeak) but the main method of communication is bill clattering, the resulting noise being similar to a child’s toy machine gun. The noise is resonated using a pouch in the throat. As a greeting or display of threat, an out-stretched back and fore neck and head dance is a spectacle to watch.

It may come as a surprise that the White Stork is a carnivore. Their prey can be anything from a small beetle to a small mammal such as a shrew or mouse with amphibians and reptiles being another favourite. You may see ploughed fields full of storks, but these birds are a farmer’s friend as they help keep pests from their crop. This in turn protects the honey bee to pollinate the flowers and produce local honey.

In flight, the birds often look motionless like an airplane coming to land. They seek out the thermals and save energy by gliding on these updrafts and can soar high in the sky.

The female usually lays four eggs. Once hatched, the young become independent after eight weeks and reach maturity from three years old. When the cooler autumn weather arrives in October, the storks prepare for their annual migration. Some birds decide to remain in the Algarve and some people claim this is due to global warming.

These large birds are a great introduction to bird photography because of their size, meaning a large telephoto lens is not required and making in-flight shots easier due to their slow-moving soar.

Silves town centre is a great location to view these birds where I’ve spent many hours photographing them – these can be viewed on my website. In October, large flocks gather in Sagres in preparation for the migration and this can be a grand spectacle.

By Craig Rogers
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Craig Rogers is a wildlife and nature photographer from Wales, now living in the Algarve offering photography workshops. For more information, visit www.craigrogers.photography

Photos by: Craig Rogers

Stork silhouetted by the sunrise in São Marcos da Serra
Storks performing their greeting ritual
Stork nest on a chimney in Silves town centre
Stork in flight