Range:

Found on all continents except Antarctica; most common in tropical regions

Habitat:

Wetlands, grasslands, tropical forest, and savanna

The stately stork

Stork. The word isn’t exactly poetry in motion, but there is much to admire in these graceful birds that inhabit wetlands, grasslands, and tropical forests on every continent except Antarctica. They range in size from the small hammerkop, at about 2 feet tall (56 centimeters), to the looming marabou stork at nearly 5 feet in height (1.5 meters). Some species are slate gray, while others sport white, red, and black.

Storks are also beautiful in flight. They fly mostly by soaring on warm air currents, with long, broad wings that only flap occasionally. They stretch their neck out and dangle their legs behind them as they fly, making them recognizable even from far away.

Some storks have bare patches on their head and neck. In the scavenger species, this is thought to prevent feathers from getting stuck together with blood or mud, but the bare places are also used to impress, becoming more brightly colored during breeding season. Some storks also use their feathers in displays, like the woolly-necked stork that has feathers to puff out around its throat like a ruffed collar.

Long-legged beauties

Storks have a dignified appearance, standing graceful and tall or marching deliberately on slender legs. The legs vary in shades of black, gray, or orange. Nature has a good purpose for those long legs, of course: they allow the stork to take long strides and wade into deep water or tall grasses and reeds in search of food. In some species, the legs act as a radiator to aid in cooling down the stork’s body during extreme heat; marabou storks deposit urates on their legs (in birds, urates are urine and feces combined). As the moisture from the urates evaporates, the underlying blood vessels are cooled.

A marabou stork’s bill grows all its life and can be 13.6 inches (34.6 centimeters) long. The large, heavy bill is a formidable weapon against other scavengers, even hyenas and jackals.
Abdim’s storks and European white storks are called "grasshopper birds" in parts of Africa because they feast on swarms of the insects.
Frogs are a main food source for European white storks. The frogs are attracted to the stork’s red legs.
The only stork species found in the United States is the wood stork. It lives in Florida’s mangroves, marshes, and swamps.

Storks have been a part of San Diego Zoo Global’s bird collection since our early years, when we started with marabou and jabiru storks. Today, between the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park, we have 10 stork species represented in our collection. The Storm’s storks and shoebills are the rarest we have.

It was a great honor when Malaysia’s Zoo Negara sent us two pairs of Storm’s storks in 1994 with hopes that we could successfully apply our stork-breeding expertise to these rare birds. In 2001, when the storks matured, we welcomed four chicks from two different clutches, the first breeding of this species in North America.

We do everything we can to replicate our storks’ natural habitat. Our care techniques are always improving as we strive to meet the birds’ needs. The Safari Park is one of only four zoos in the country to breed saddlebill storks, and there are fewer than 10 shoebill storks in the United States, half of which are at the Park. In June 1994, the Park became the first zoo to breed the African open-bill stork.

The future for storks is precarious. Stork populations are decreasing in numbers because of habitat loss, pesticide usage, and poaching. Storks are diverse and unique, and they are dependent on marshlands for their survival. As they are so recognizable, they are an excellent flagship group of birds. Saving stork habitat will also protect other flora and fauna that use the marshlands.