Above: White storks at Knepp Estate, which is home to The White Stork Project, led by a pioneering partnership of private landowners and nature conservation organisations. This year’s released storks will encounter other individuals and may follow leader birds in migration. ‘They may spend winter in a range of locations depending on the storks they encounter on the way,’ said Dr Aldina Franco. Photo: Kevin Harwood


A FURTHER EIGHT captive-bred young white storks, bred at Knepp Estate in West Sussex, are being tracked by researchers to reveal more about their diverse migration choices.

They follow four other juvenile storks that fledged from two nests in the wild at Knepp earlier this year (see News, June 3), and are part of the White Stork Project, which aims to re-establish the species as a breeding bird in the UK.

The birds are being GPS tracked by a team at the University of East Anglia (UEA), who say there is a “high level of excitement and anticipation” after deploying the tracking devices. “We don’t know what the birds will do or if they will survive the migration,” said the UEA’s Dr Aldina Franco, who leads a research group investigating changes in the migratory behaviour of birds.

European storks migrate to Southern Europe and Africa in the autumn and have two main routes – the eastern and western migratory routes – with a migratory divide in Germany.

Previously unpublished data from a 2019 trial, where researchers from the UEA and the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust fitted GPS trackers to eight storks, showed that many of the birds spent the winter at landfill sites in Southern Europe and Northern Africa.

But initial data from the eight  birds released this year indicates that the migratory storks crossed to Europe via Dover to Calais. Three storks are now in Spain using landfill sites, two are in France and one is still in the UK. One stork died in the UK and one in France is no longer transmitting.

“In 2019 some of my colleagues were positive the UK storks would remain in the country, others thought they would migrate using the western migratory route, while I thought they follow their parents’ route towards the east,” commented Dr Franco.

“In fact, we were all right, and astonished to see the diversity of strategies individuals adopted.”

The combination of sightings and GPS data from the 2019 juveniles has shown they are integrating with wild populations of storks, following the more experienced birds once they meet them in Europe.

Lucy Groves, White Stork Project officer for the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, said: “I am looking forward to seeing if our 2020 juveniles pick the same or different routes.”

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