The white stork in the stork sanctuary in Salem

The stork sanctuary in Salem is located in South Germany and provides a refuge for the white stork in the state Baden-Wuerttemberg. In this blog entry I tell you more about the stork sanctuary and why this project in Salem was so important for the conservation of white storks in Germany.

How is actually the white stork in Germany?

If you would have asked me this question before my visit of the stork sanctuary in Salem, honestly, I wouldn’t have been able to give you any answer.

I didn’t know it.

I knew already that the number of other birds that feed on insects have declined – which is in my opinion very worrisome – but the conservation status of the white stork?

No. I didn’t know it.

I still had to learn more about it.

When I want to know more about the conservation status of any species, the first thing I do is to check the website of the World Conservation Union IUCN. According to the IUCN the white stork is listed in the category „least concern“ which means that the species is not considered to be threatened or endangered. The population even seems to be increasing.

White stork on the roof

However, does this mean that all populations of white storks are fine? Including the one in Germany?

After the 6th International White Stork Census it was estimated that there were about 4.500 breeding pairs of white storks in Germany and the population even seems to increase in number.

And in the state Baden-Württemberg?

Well, in the stork sanctuary in Salem I learned that white storks are exposed to many different threats, but due to conservation efforts the population in Baden-Württemberg has increased in the last few decades.

That is good news for the white stork in Baden-Württemberg.

However, it was not always like that.

In 1975 there were only 15 breeding pairs of white storks left in Baden-Württemberg.

Today, there are more than 500 breeding pairs.

Breeding pair in Salem

And the stork sanctuary in Salem contributed significantly to the conservation of the white stork in Baden-Württemberg.

If you want to see many breeding storks in Germany, Salem is really a good place to do so as the stork sanctuary is just next to the Affenberg where a group of barbary macaques lives.

White storks at the Affenberg

When you pass the parking site you will already encounter many white storks sitting on their aery or flying across the open spaces around the Affenberg Salem.

Honestly, I was surprised. I didn’t expect to see so many.

Nevertheless, I visited the stork sanctuary on a hot day in June.

And although it was such a hot day and although there were still no school holidays, the stork sanctuary and the Affenberg Salem were very well-attended.

Practical information: If you want to have a special experience with white storks in the stork sanctuary in Salem, every day once or twice staff of the sanctuary provide some food for the storks. Please check the website of the stork sanctuary in order to check the timetable of the exact feeding time.

The white stork

The white stork is a long-distance migratory bird breeding in Europe, some parts of Asia and in northern Africa. They spend winter mostly in Africa from the Sub-Sahara as far south as South Africa. The white stork population in Asia spends winter on the Indian continent.

White stork in flight

White storks heading for Africa avoid long sea crossings, and thus, either opt for a western or eastern route. The eastern route leads white storks over the Bosphorus into Turkey. Some white storks follow a western route over the Strait of Gibraltar. As white storks use rising thermals, they are not able to fly long distances on water surfaces.

Not all white storks spend the winter in the south. Some storks even spend the winter in Germany. Especially those storks that were injured as fledglings, and thus, had to be raised by humans. But sometimes even other not-injured white storks remain in Germany. However, the reason for this behavior is still not clear.

Interesting information: The breeding pairs in the 70s in Salem were prevented to follow their migratory behavior in order to establish a colony of white storks in Baden-Württemberg. Although they did not migrate to the south, nowadays, the white storks in Baden-Württemberg migrate to Spain or Africa.

The white stork belongs to the bird family Ciconiidae. All storks are long-legged with long bills. There are six different genera of storks. The white storks belongs to the genus Ciconia, and thus, its latin name is Ciconia ciconia.

White stork on a branch
Two white storks in a tree

So far, I encountered only one other stork species in the wild. And this was a jabiru (Jabiru mycteria) in the Pantanal in Brazil.

Jabiru in the Pantanal

In South Africa I actually also saw a stork species, however, not in the wild but in the sanctuary Tenikwa. The species‘ name is marabou stork (Leptoptilos crumeniferus) – a very conspicuous bird of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Marabou stork in Africa

White storks mainly feed on mouses, frogs, worms, insects, fishes, lizards or snakes. Their food preferences do not significantly change in the winter and in their breeding grounds. However, in their winter grounds in the south they even might feed on locusts or dumping grounds which might have fatal consequences for some storks. More about this in the next paragraph.

Questions: Why do white storks migrate to Europe and do not remain in Africa like the marabou stork? Is it because of food competition with many other storks like the marabou stork? But why do white storks migrate and not marabou storks? Do you have any idea?

If you want to know more about the white stork in general, please check the resources at the end of this blog entry.

Threats and conservation of the white stork

On my visit to the stork sanctuary I especially learned more about the different threats the white stork is exposed to in the course of its life.

One threat is food shortage due to habit destruction. In the past the white stork took advantage of extensively farmed green areas – which meant new food grounds for the bird – as it is a synanthrope. Thus, white storks could actually benefit from the agricultural use of landscapes by humans. However, the intensification of agriculture and the cultivation of monocultures on a large scale led to a significant loss of their food resources.

Another threat are dumping grounds. Often white storks feed on dumping grounds where they find plastic waste or elastic bands which they mistake for worms. If white storks feed on such items, they very probably suffer a painful death. White storks also find many poisonous food on dumping grounds. Therefore, although a dumping ground often looks as a feeding paradise for a white stork, it might have severe consequences for an individual.

White storks also might feed on many poisonous locusts during the locust infestation in Africa. As many African countries massively use pesticides during a locust infestation in order to protect their agricultural land, some white storks might feed on a large amount of poisoned locusts.

Other threats for the white stork are collisions with vehicles, drought periods, hunting in some African countries or water towers especially in France and Spain.

Nevertheless, one of the most common cause of death for the white stork are electricity pylons. Especially young white storks are not able to perceive electricity pylons as threats. They often use electricity pylons as a roosting or nesting place. The risk to be electrocuted is especially high for these young birds. Even white storks in flight might oversee the thin electrical cords and collide with them.

As you can see white storks are exposed to many different threats. As the white stork is a synanthrope, most threats are linked to humans.

But what has to be done in order to minimize all these threats?

As death by electrocution is the most common threat for the white stork, electricity pylons have to be defused. Around the white stork colony in Salem electricity pylons where isolated or provided with specific deflectors.

Another conservation effort in Salem is the sanctuary itself where abandoned stork fledglings are raised by other breeding pairs. A breeding pair does not discriminate between their biological offspring and other stork fledglings. Furthermore, the staff of the stork sanctuary in Salem also cares for white storks with injuries or diseases.

White storks on a roof

In order to get people interested in the white stork and in general in conservation, the stork sanctuary is involved in several outreach activities. For example, visitors can participate in the feeding of the white storks where they also learn more about storks and the threats they are exposed to.

The white stork colony in Salem is wild, but due to food shortage, the people of the stork sanctuary in Salem provides supplementary food for the storks in order to increase breeding success. As white storks have to face so many threats, supplementary feeding is used to compensate the loss of birds.

White storks on a roof

The more we know about a species, the more we are able to protect it. Therefore, another conservation effort of the stork sanctuary is to put radio collars on white storks and ring the birds. This way, we learn more about their migration routes or where a bird was lost on its migration route. But also, where do they feed? Or where do they rest? An individual white stork with a radio collar can reveal important behavior patterns, and thus, contribute to the research and conservation of this migratory bird.

Every white stork in Salem is ringed at the age of about four to six weeks and registered in an international data base. This way we receive more information about the population development of white storks.

White stork in its nest
Breeding pair in the nest

These are some of the conservation efforts the stork sanctuary is involved. I still haven’t mentioned the establishment of nesting sites and the renaturation of their habitat. If you want to know more about white storks, please check the resources at the end of this blog entry.

More birds around the stork sanctuary

If you visit the Affenberg Salem and the white storks, I’m sure you will encounter many other birds.
As I visited the Affenberg on a hot day in the late morning, I could not see such a great diversity of birds. But still I encountered some.

I saw especially many greylag gooses (Anser anser) and mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) around the lake of the Affenberg.

Greylag goose in Salem
Mallard in Salem

A common chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) flew around a tree just next to the lake.

Common chaffinch in a tree

I took my time at the lake. A little bit farther afield I could observe a red-crested pochard (Netta rufina).

Red-crested pochard in the lake

While a white wagtail (Motacilla alba) flew between the trees and the rail of the walkway in order to collect nesting material.

White wagtail in a tree
White wagtail on a rail

Some mute swans (Cygnus olor) swam around the walkway. It was easier to observe them when compared to the busy white wagtail or the red-crested pochard in the middle of the lake.

Mute swan in a lake
Mute swan offspring in a lake

Close to the mute swans was an adult Eurasian coot (Fulica atra) and a young.

Eurasian coot swimming in a lake
Eurasian coot young swimming in a lake

I’m sure, if you visit the lake early in the morning or in the evening, you will find many more birds.

Interesting to know: There are many other animals that you can observe on the Affenberg in Salem. Like for example the Daubenton's bat (Myotis daubentonii), the European tree frog (Hyla arborea), the gras snake (Natrix natrix) or the emperor dragonfly (Anax imperator). The Affenberg Salem is also home for fallow deer (Dama dama).

Practical information

How to get to the stork sanctuary

I used only public transport to get to the Affenberg and stork sanctuary in Salem. At first I took the train to Salem. The train station is located in 88682 Salem. Just next to the train station is the street Bahnhofstraße where buses leave for the Affenberg Salem. The distance between the train station and the Affenberg Salem is about five kilometers.

Entrance area at the Affenberg Salem

The address of the Affenberg Salem is Mendlishauser Hof, 88682 Salem (Mendlishausen).

The name of the bus which runs between the train station and the Affenberg Salem is "Erlebnisbus1". Please check the website of this bus for more information about the timetable and prices.

You will also find more information about how to get to the Affenberg Salem on the official website (only in German).

More resources about the white stork

Impact of supplementary feeding on reproductive success of white storks

Where have all the insects gone?

The white stork in Oberschwaben (only in German)

The white stork in Baden-Württemberg (only in German)

Frequently asked questions about the white stork (only in German)

Conservation status of the white stork according to the IUCN

Official website of the Affenberg Salem and the white storks (only in German)

Have you already been on the Affenberg and the stork sanctuary in Salem? Which animals have you seen? And where else have you already encountered a white stork? Please let me know in the comments.

White stork
White stork

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