The Importance Of Transylvania’s Storks
Storks (Ciconia ciconia) are the perfect example of how wildlife and humans can coexist. Storks have lived in symbiosis with humans since the Middle Ages when woodlands in Europe were cleared, helping these birds access prey like insects and reptiles. However, intensive farming practices have pushed storks out of most areas of Europe. But, Transylvania’s traditional, eco-friendly agriculture still supports large populations of these iconic birds.
In Romania, estimates show a population of about 5,000 to 6,000 nesting pairs of storks. With such a large (and increasing) population and a huge range, the species is classified as “Low Risk” by the IUCN. Their breeding season begins in late March when the storks can be seen returning to their European homes.
The female usually lays 3-4 eggs and the incubation lasts 32-38 days. Stork chicks then begin flying at 63-71 days. The pairs nest in isolation from other storks, appearing almost like a human family; both parents feed their chicks and both work hard to keep them safe and healthy.
Storks have large nests that can be spotted from a distance; they use branches lined with grass and moss to create a semi-permanent home. The nests are reused (often by the same pair) for years in a row. Sometimes, storks also occupy large nests of birds of prey. They place their nests in old, tall trees, often at a considerable height. However, in Transylvania, they love to build their nests in old villages and their massive nests are an iconic part of many traditional Saxon homes.
Saxon villages are a favorite nesting ground for storks because of their unique position relative to fertile fields where these birds like to feed. Almost every Saxon village is very remote, located in valleys very close to healthy forests. Every Saxon village is surrounded by woods and hills, each serving a purpose for their civilization. When the Saxons built their homes, they considered the benefits of living close to the forest, so it would be easy to carry wood in the winter. They also wanted their crops on hills where the sun shines on almost all day long.
As a result, every Saxon village has more than 5 pairs of storks. Every summer, it is common to see more than 50 storks in one place near the crops. They like the insects and the worms, which is very beneficial for the crops because storks eat a lot of the pest insects that affect agriculture. They also make for an amazing view early in the morning when the sun shines over fifty storks eating in one spot as if they were at a stork conference.
Transylvania is made up of hundreds of villages, each of which has their storks. If you drive through Transylvania in the summer, you can play a game of how many storks you see on the road; when you arrive at your destination you might be shocked.
Storks in Modern Transylvania
Storks have always been important for the Transylvanian people. When the first storks arrive in the spring, everyone is excited (not just the ornithologists). Storks are a local symbol of spring, purity, abundance, and normalcy at the end of a long, cold winter.
However, as Romania has modernized, storks nesting grounds have come under new threats. Some storks build their nests on electric poles and their young can be electrocuted. Given the importance of storks culturally, the Romanian government works hard to avoid this problem. The use of pesticides also harms stork populations, as they live on the insects that grow in crops. As Transylvania still uses few pesticides, these birds are particularly abundant in the region. Storks are so important to Romanians that ornithologists travel yearly to teach people in villages about how to conserve and protect them.
White storks are part of Transylvania’s heritage and are a marker of Transylvania’s biodiversity and crop quality. These birds are the symbol of hope and positivity for the country. After all, Saxon villages will not be the same without storks. These birds give the wake up call every morning when they lift up their splendid necks and start clapping their beak loudly. Every farmer knows the sound and rises to start another day.
Looking for the best places to get started spotting wildlife in Romania? Check out our tours in Transylvania at the Angofa Wildlife Centre!