Any of 17 species (family Ciconiidae) of voiceless, long-necked, mainly Old World birds. Storks are 2–5 ft (60–150 cm) tall, often with a totally or partially bald, brightly coloured head and upper neck. They fly by alternately flapping and soaring, with neck outstretched and legs trailing. Most species are diurnal, feeding on small animals in shallow water and fields; some eat carrion. Usually found in flocks, storks pair off during the breeding season, and both parents incubate the eggs. Typical storks have a straight or nearly straight bill; the four species of wood stork have a curved bill. The only U.S. stork, the wood ibis (Mycteria americana), is white, with black wings and tail and a curved bill. Seealso ibis; marabou.
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African stork (Leptoptilos crumeniferus). Standing 5 ft (1.5 m) tall with a wingspread of 8.5 ft (2.6 m), the marabou is the largest of all storks. Mainly gray and white, it has a bald pinkish face and neck; a reddish, inflatable throat pouch; and a straight, heavy bill. Marabous eat carrion, often feeding with vultures, which they dominate.
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They occur in most of the warmer regions of the world and tend to live in drier habitats than the 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 bird call; bill-clattering is an important mode of stork communication at the nest. Many species are migratory. Most storks eat frogs, fish, insects, earthworms, and small birds or 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 19th century. Storks are heavy, with wide wingspans: the Marabou Stork, with a wingspan of 3.2 m (10.5 ft), 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 have been known to grow to over 2 m (6 ft) in diameter and about 3 m (10 ft) 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. They tend to be attached to nests as much as partners.
Storks' size, serial monogamy, and faithfulness to an established nesting site contribute to their prominence in mythology and culture.
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 being he who walks in the swamp. In later times this name got reanalyzed as *ōdaboro, ōda "fortune, wealth" + boro "bearer" meaning he who brings wealth adding to the myth of storks as maintainers of welfare and bringing the 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 they were named, the now-rare black stork was probably the more common species.
Distinct and possibly widespread by the Oligocene, like most families of aquatic birds storks seem to have arisen in the Paleogene, 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 Réunion was probably of a bird taken there as food by early settlers; no known account mentions the presence of storks on the Mascarenes.
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.
In Western culture the White Stork is a symbol of childbirth. In Victorian times the details of human reproduction were difficult to approach, especially in reply to a younger child's query of "Where did I come from?"; "The stork brought you to us" was the tactic used to avoid discussion of sex. This habit was derived from the once popular superstition that storks were the harbingers of happiness and prosperity, and possibly from the habit of some storks of nesting atop chimneys, down which the new baby could be imagined as entering the house.
The image of a stork bearing an infant wrapped in a sling held in its beak is common in popular culture. The small pink or reddish patches often found on a newborn child's eyelids, between the eyes, on the upper lip, and on the nape of the neck are sometimes still called "stork bites". In fact they are clusters of developing veins that often soon fade.
The Bible references the stork e.g. in Leviticus 11:19.
In Walt Disney's 4th classic Dumbo, the stork (more generally "Mr. Stork") delivers babies to their animal mothers. At the beginning of the film, he delivers Dumbo to Mrs. Jumbo. He is voiced by Sterling Holloway.
Several Warner Bros. cartoons — including Stork Naked and Apes of Wrath — cast a stork as a perpetually drunken employee of a baby-delivery service. Always losing his cargo en route to the intended recipients, the stork would find a replacement (always the wrong species) and deliver it to his clients. The stork was a bit player in these shorts, appearing at only the beginning and the end (where he returns to correct his mistake); the rest of the cartoons played out the interaction between the parents and the mismatched "child" they attempted to raise.
Vlasic uses this child-bearing stork as a mascot in North America for its brand of pickles, merging the stork-baby mythology with the notion that pregnant women have an above-average appetite for pickles.
In Family Guy Presents Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story, the stork is portrayed as a deep-voiced lothario. Upon his arrival, an excited woman becomes perplexed when instead of a baby, the stork's traditional sling carries a single red lightbulb, which the stork connects to the bedside lamp. Upon being asked about the whereabouts of the baby, the stork tells the woman, "Sweetie, you and me are going to make the baby." He then turns on the radio (which is playing stereotypical porn music) before strutting to the bed.
If not otherwise indicated, these usually refer to the White Stork (Ciconia ciconia).