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For other uses, see Stork (disambiguation).
European white storks in Alsace, France

Storks are large, long-legged, long-necked wading birds with long, stout bills. They belong to the family Ciconiidae. They are the only family in the order Ciconiiformes, which was once much larger and held a number of families.

Storks dwell in many regions and tend to live in drier habitats than the closely related herons, spoonbills and ibises; they also lack the powder down that those groups use to clean off fish slime. Storks have no syrinx and are mute, giving no call; bill-clattering is an important mode of communication at the nest. Many species are migratory. Most storks eat frogs, fish, insects, earthworms, small birds and small mammals. There are nineteen living species of storks in six genera.

Various terms are used to refer to groups of storks,[1] two frequently used ones being a muster of storks and a phalanx of storks.

Storks tend to use soaring, gliding flight, which conserves energy. Soaring requires thermal air currents. Ottomar Anschütz's famous 1884 album of photographs of storks inspired the design of Otto Lilienthal's experimental gliders of the late nineteenth century. Storks are heavy, with wide wingspans: the marabou stork, with a wingspan of 3.2 metres (10.5 feet) and weight up to 8 kg (18 lbs), joins the Andean condor in having the widest wingspan of all living land birds.

Their nests are often very large and may be used for many years. Some nests have been known to grow to over two metres (six feet) in diameter and about three metres (ten feet) in depth. Storks were once thought to be monogamous, but this is only partially true. They may change mates after migrations, and may migrate without a mate.

Storks' size, serial monogamy, and faithfulness to an established nesting site contribute to their prominence in mythology and culture.


The Modern English word can be traced back to Proto-Germanic *sturkaz. Nearly every Germanic language has a descendant of this proto-language word to indicate the (white) stork. Related names also occur in some Slavic languages, originating as Germanic loanwords.

According to the New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, the Germanic root is probably related to the modern English "stark", in reference to the stiff or rigid posture of a European species, the white stork. A non-Germanic word linked to it may be Greek torgos ("vulture").

In some West Germanic languages cognate words of a different etymology exist. They originate from *uda-faro, uda being related to water meaning something like swamp or moist area and faro being related to fare; so *uda-faro is something like he who walks in the swamp. In later times this name got reanalysed as *ōdaboro, ōda "fortune, wealth" + boro "bearer" meaning he who brings wealth adding to the myth of storks as maintainers of welfare and bringers of children.

In Estonian, "stork" is toonekurg, which is derived from toonela (underworld in Estonian folklore) + kurg (crane). It may seem not to make sense to associate the now-common white stork with death, but at the times storks were named, the now-rare black stork was probably the more common species.


The centres of stork diversity are in tropical Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, with eight and six breeding species respectively. Just three species are present in the New World: wood stork, maguari stork and jabiru, which is the largest flying bird of the Americas. Two species, white and black stork, reach Europe and western temperate Asia, while one species, Oriental stork, reaches temperate areas of eastern Asia, and one species, black-necked stork, is found in Australasia.[2]


A DNA study found that the families Ardeidae, Balaenicipitidae, Scopidae and the Threskiornithidae belong to the Pelecaniformes. This would make Ciconiidae the only group.[3]

Storks were distinct and possibly widespread by the Oligocene. Like most families of aquatic birds, storks seem to have arisen in the Palaeogene, maybe 40–50 million years ago (mya). For the fossil record of living genera, documented since the Middle Miocene (about 15 mya) at least in some cases, see the genus articles.

Though some storks are highly threatened, no species or subspecies are known to have gone extinct in historic times. A Ciconia bone found in a rock shelter on the island of Réunion was probably of a bird taken there as food by early settlers; no known account mentions the presence of storks on the Mascarene Islands.

Extant storks[edit]

Fossil storks[edit]

  • Genus Palaeoephippiorhynchus (fossil: Early Oligocene of Fayyum, Egypt)
  • Genus Grallavis (fossil: Early Miocene of Saint-Gérand-le-Puy, France, and Djebel Zelten, Libya) – may be same as Prociconia
  • Ciconiidae gen. et sp. indet. (Ituzaingó Late Miocene of Paraná, Argentina)[note 1][4][5]
  • Ciconiidae gen. et sp. indet. (Puerto Madryn Late Miocene of Punta Buenos Aires, Argentina)[note 2][5]
  • Genus Prociconia (fossil: Late Pleistocene of Brazil) – may belong to modern genus Jabiru or Ciconia
  • Genus Pelargosteon (fossil: Early Pleistocene of Romania)
  • Ciconiidae gen. et sp. indet. – formerly Aquilavus/Cygnus bilinicus (fossil: Early Miocene of Břešťany, Czechia)
  • cf. Leptoptilos gen. et sp. indet. – formerly L. siwalicensis (fossil: Late Miocene? – Late Pliocene of Siwalik, India)[6]
  • Ciconiidae gen. et sp. indet. (fossil: Late Pleistocene of San Josecito Cavern, Mexico)[7]

The fossil genera Eociconia (Middle Eocene of China) and Ciconiopsis (Deseado Early Oligocene of Patagonia, Argentina) are often tentatively placed with this family. A "ciconiiform" fossil fragment from the Touro Passo Formation found at Arroio Touro Passo (Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil) might be of the living wood stork M. americana; it is at most of Late Pleistocene age, a few 10,000s of years.[8]


  1. ^ Tarsometatarsus fragments somewhat similar to Mycteria
  2. ^ Specimen MEF 1363: Incomplete skeleton of a large stork somewhat similar to Jabiru but apparently more plesiomorphic


  1. ^ About the Wood Stork: Denizens of the Wetlands, Accessed on 13.12.2010
  2. ^ del Hoyo, J. Elliott, A. & Sargatal, J. (1992) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 1: Ostrich to Ducks. Lynx Edicions. ISBN 84-87334-10-5.
  3. ^ Gibb, G.C. et al. (2013) Beyond phylogeny: pelecaniform and ciconiiform birds, and long-term niche stability. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 68(2):229–238.
  4. ^ Cione, Alberto Luis; de las Mercedes Azpelicueta, María; Bond, Mariano; Carlini, Alfredo A.; Casciotta, Jorge R.; Cozzuol, Mario Alberto; de la Fuente, Marcelo; Gasparini, Zulma; Goin, Francisco J.; Noriega, Jorge; Scillatoyané, Gustavo J.; Soibelzon, Leopoldo; Tonni, Eduardo Pedro; Verzi, Diego & Guiomar Vucetich, María (2000): Miocene vertebrates from Entre Ríos province, eastern Argentina. [English with Spanish abstract] In: Aceñolaza, F.G. & Herbst, R. (eds.): El Neógeno de Argentina. INSUGEO Serie Correlación Geológica 14: 191–237. PDF fulltext
  5. ^ a b Noriega, Jorge Ignacio & Cladera, Gerardo (2005): First Record of Leptoptilini (Ciconiiformes: Ciconiidae) in the Neogene of South America. Abstracts of Sixth International Meeting of the Society of Avian Paleontology and Evolution: 47. PDF fulltext
  6. ^ Specimens BMNH 39741 (holotype, left proximal tarsometatarsus) and BMNH 39734 (right distal tibiotarsus). Similar to Ephippiorhynchus and Leptotilos, may be from a small female of Leptotilos falconeri, from L. dubius, or from another species: Louchart, Antoine; Vignaud, Patrick; Likius, Andossa; Brunet, Michel & and White, Tim D. (2005). "A large extinct marabou stork in African Pliocene hominid sites, and a review of the fossil species of Leptoptilos". Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 50 (3): 549–563. 
  7. ^ Distal radius of a mid-sized Ciconia or smallish Mycteria: Steadman, David W.; Arroyo-Cabrales, Joaquin; Johnson, Eileen & Guzman, A. Fabiola (1994). "New Information on the Late Pleistocene Birds from San Josecito Cave, Nuevo León, Mexico". Condor 96 (3): 577–589. doi:10.2307/1369460. 
  8. ^ Schmaltz Hsou, Annie (2007): O estado atual do registro fóssil de répteis e aves no Pleistoceno do Estado do Rio Grande do Sul, Brasil ["The current state of the fossil record of Pleistocene reptiles and birds of Rio Grande do Sul"]. Talk held on 2007-JUN-20 at Quaternário do RS: integrando conhecimento, Canoas, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. PDF abstract

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