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The white stork (Ciconia ciconia) is one of Europe’s most important ecosystem engineers. As world leading home building skills, their nests are one of the largest of any bird and are also among the heaviest, sometimes reaching over a ton in weight! These super structures provide shelter for a mind boggling diversity of plants and animals with which the storks happily co-exist.
Sadly, in the UK, white storks were hunted to extinction around 600 years ago. Their loss was bad news for so many of their co-habitants. It seems certain that if there were white stork nests in the UK today, then there would be more wildlife in general! How can we solve this problem? One way in which we can contribute is by making our own stork nests and building homes for our native wildlife!
In this tutorial we will show you how!
The stork’s nest is made of dry and long sticks laid in layers, and the thick inner lining consists of hay, straw, and manure. White stork nests are often used for decades, and each year they are repaired and expanded. The larger the nests get, the more valuable they become for other wildlife, although old heavy nests do become compacted and less useful for smaller nesting birds. Mice, rats, and red squirrels have all nested within storks nests, which also host wasps, ants. However, stork nests are also places of occurrence of numerous invertebrates, including wasps, ants, beetles, and mites. Earlier studies indicated that stork nests can be occupied by at least 34 species of mites. Stork nests are particularly important for nesting and winter roostin house sparrows and tree sparrows, both of which have declined dramatically in the last 50 years. Incredibly, the stork’s nesting material also consists of the seeds of over 100 species of plants, creating a seed bank of nearly 10,000 seedlings per nest!
Thankfully there is now renewed hope for the return of white storks to the UK, with a reintroduction programme currently underway at Knepp Estate in West Sussex. Breeding has already been attempted and free flying birds are once again being seen in the area! Let’s hope this signals the return of this wonderful ecosystem engineer!