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. 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 19 living species of storks in six genera.
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 m (10 ft 6 in) and weight up to 8 kg (18 lb), 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 2 metres (6 ft 7 in) in diameter and about 3 metres (9.8 ft) in depth. All storks were once thought to be monogamous, but this is only partially true. Some species may change mates after migrations, and may migrate without a mate.
All 20 stork species have been assessed by the IUCN and carry a confident Red List status. However, this assessment appears to be based on incorrect assumptions and a general absence of sound information on stork habits, suggesting that basic studies on many storks are needed.
The bills of storks are large to very large, and vary considerably between the genera. The shape of the bills is linked to the diet of the different species. The large bills of the Ciconia storks are the least specialised. Larger are the massive and slightly upturned bills of the Ephippiorhynchus and the jabiru. These have evolved to hunt for fish in shallow water. Larger still are the massive daggers of the two adjutants and marabou (Leptoptilos), which are used to feed on carrion and in defence against other scavengers, as well as for taking other prey. The long, ibis-like downcurved bills of the Mycteria storks have sensitive tips that allow them to detect prey by touch (tactilocation) where cloudy conditions would not allow them to see it. The most specialised bills of any storks are those of the two openbills (Anastomus.), which as their name suggested is open in the middle when their bill is closed. These bills have evolved to help openbills feed on their only prey item, aquatic snails.
Although it is sometimes reported that storks lack syrinxes and are mute, they do have syrinxes, and are capable of making some sounds, although they do not do so often. The syrinxes of storks are "variably degenerate" however, and the syringeal membranes of some species are found between tracheal rings or cartilage, an unusual arrangement shared with the ovenbirds.
Storks have a nearly cosmopolitan distribution, being absent from the poles, most of North America and large parts of Australia. 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 tallest 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.
Storks are more diverse and common in the tropics, and the species that live in temperate climates for the most part migrate to avoid the worst of winter. They are fairly diverse in their habitat requirements. Some species, particularly the Mycteria "wood storks" and Anastomus openbills, are highly dependent on water and aquatic prey, but many other species are far less dependent on this habitat type, although they will frequently make use of it. Species like the marabou and Abdim's stork will frequently be found foraging in open grasslands of savannah. Preferred habitats include flooded grasslands, light woodland, marshes and paddyfields, wet meadows, river backwaters and ponds. Many species will select shallow pools, particularly when lakes or rivers are drying out, as they concentrate prey and make it harder for prey to escape, or when monsoonal rainfall increases water depth of larger waterbodies. Some species like the woolly-necked storks and lesser adjutant storks have adapted to changing crops of tropical agricultural landscapes showcasing behavioral plasticity that enables them to remain resident despite the transformations brought about by seasonal crops. In South Africa, the woolly-necked storks have adapted to artificial feeding and now largely nest on trees in gardens with swimming pools.
Less typical habitats include the dense temperate forests used by European black storks, or the rainforest habitat sought by Storm's stork in South East Asia. They generally avoid marine habitats, with the exception of the lesser adjutant, milky stork and wood stork, all of which forage in mangroves, lagoons and estuarine mudflats. A number of species, especially woolly-necked storks, black-necked storks, Asian openbills and lesser adjutant Storks in south Asia, have adapted to highly modified human habitats, either for foraging or breeding or both. In the absence of persecution several species breed close to people, and species such as the marabou, greater adjutant, and white stork will feed at landfill sites.
Storks vary in their tendency towards migration. Temperate species like the white stork, black stork and Oriental stork undertake long annual migrations in the winter. The routes taken by these species have developed to avoid long distance travel across water, and from Europe this usually means flying across the Straits of Gibraltar or east across the Bosphorus and through Israel and the Sinai. Studies of young birds denied the chance to travel with others of their species have shown that these routes are at least partially learnt, rather than being innate as they are in passerine migrants. Migrating black storks are split between those that make stopovers on the migration between Europe and their wintering grounds in Africa, and those that don't.
The Abdim's stork is another migrant, albeit one that migrates within the tropics. It breeds in northern Africa, from Senegal to the Red Sea, during the wet season, and then migrates to Southern Africa. Many species that aren't regular migrants will still make smaller movements if circumstances require it; others may migrate over part of their range. This can also include regular commutes from nesting sites to feeding areas. Wood storks have been observed feeding 130 km (80 mi) from their breeding colony.
Storks are carnivorous predators, taking a range of reptiles, small mammals, insects, fish, amphibians and other small invertebrates. Any plant material consumed is usually by accident. Mycteria storks are specialists in feeding on aquatic vertebrates, particularly when prey is concentrated by lowering water levels or flooding into shallows. On marine mudflats and mangrove swamps in Sumatra, milky storks feed on mudskippers, probing the burrow with the bill and even the whole head into the mud. The characteristic feeding method involves standing or walking in shallow water and holding the bill submerged in the water. When contact is made with prey the bill reflexively snaps shut in 25 milliseconds, one of the fastest reactions known in any vertebrate. The reaction is able to distinguish between prey items and inanimate objects like branches, although the exact mechanism is unknown.
The other genera of storks are more generalised. Ciconia storks are very generalised in their diets, although Abdim's stork is something of a specialist in feeding in large flocks on swarms of locusts and at wildfires, although other storks will opportunistically feed in this way if the opportunity arises. This is why white storks and Abdim's storks are known as "grasshopper birds". Ephippiorhynchus are carnivorous though have a very diverse diet when living on human modified habitats such as agricultural landscapes. The foraging method used by the generalists is to stalk or walk across grassland or shallow water, watching for prey.
Storks range from being solitary breeders through loose breeding associations to fully colonial. The jabiru, Ephippiorhynchus storks and several species of Ciconia are entirely solitary when breeding. In contrast the Mycteria storks, Abdim's stork, openbills and Leptoptilos storks all breed in colonies which can range from a couple of pairs to thousands. Many of these species breed in colonies with other waterbirds, which can include other species of storks, herons and egrets, pelicans, cormorants and ibises. White storks, Oriental storks and Maguari storks are all loosely colonial, and may breed in nests that are within visual range of others of the same species, but have little to do with one another. They also may nest solitarily, and the reasons why they choose to nest together or apart are not understood.
No species or subspecies of stork is known to have gone extinct in historic times. A systematic literature review uncovered nearly 1,000 papers on storks, but showed most stork species to lack scientific understanding suggesting that many species should be classified as Data Deficient on the IUCN Red List. 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.
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. 041b061a72