White storks leave Polish nests early after hot summer

Vanessa Gera
Associated Press

Warsaw, Poland – White storks that have nested in Poland are heading south for the winter earlier than usual after an especially hot, dry summer, a development experts are linking to climate change.

Poland has a large population of white storks that arrive from Africa every spring and nest all summer before returning south by the end of August.

Gabriela Kulakowska, an ornithologist with the Polish Society for Bird Protection, said storks in many cases have departed about two weeks earlier than usual this year.

“The nests in the villages are already empty,” Kulakowska said Tuesday. “Ornithologists say they have never seen anything like this.”

She said that if the weather this summer is a result of climate change, “then this year’s early journey is also an effect of climate change.”

There is some disagreement about why exactly they are leaving early.

Because summer also came early, Kulakowska said the birds have had good conditions for breeding, feeding and growing their chicks, and gathered the energy stores early to begin their long flight back to southern Africa.

Monika Klimowicz, with the Polish Society for the Protection of Birds, noted that this summer’s dry spell has meant there have been fewer insects, snakes, lizards, frogs and small mammals for the storks to feed on.

Klimowicz said her organization has also observed the birds departing early and said that “most of the nests are already empty now.”

There are some 50,000 white storks that visit Poland every summer, making up some 20 percent of the world’s population. The numbers, however, are declining.

The birds are much loved in Poland and a key element in folk beliefs and iconography.

People believed that if storks nested on their homes, it brought them good luck – and children. That idea was rooted in the fact that storks often arrived in spring, when human births were also at a peak, caused by the fact that women in the past were more likely to conceive at times of improved nutrition, Kulakowska said.