Storks Foregoing Migration in Lieu of Junk Food

26 Apr 2016

Scientists from England’s University of East Anglia have discovered that storks are ditching the normal migration habits in order to binge eat their favorite junk food.

White storks usually make 100 km round trips to landfill sites in the European Union to get their junk food fix. Recently, concern for the well-being of these birds has grown. If the landfill sites that they frequent close down, the birds could suffer tremendously.

In the winter months, white storks that live in the European Union used to migrate to Africa, where they could find food sources during the cold weather months. However, given the influx of junk food at landfill sites, particularly in Portugal and Spain, the white storks have become year-round residents. The birds are able to find sustenance year-round, thanks to landfill sites, which provide a lot of food for them to eat.

White storks are just one species of migratory birds that have been found to alter their behavior as a result of changes to the environment and influences by humans. Research that was recently published in the scientific journal Movement Ecology has confirmed that the birds are becoming year-round residents near landfills, as there is always a supply of food for them to eat. However, due to a EU Landfill Directive, which requires that landfill sites close, there could be a dramatic impact on the stork population.

Dr Aldina Franco from UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences and the leader of a study that examined the influence of landfill sites on white storks migratory change, said that Portugal’s stork population has grown 10 fold over a period of 2 decades. About 14,000 white storks no winter in the country, and those numbers continue to grow.

Dr Franco and his team examined the habits of 48 storks using GPS tracking devices. The GPS tracking device that each of these birds was outfitted with would transmit the position of the birds five times a day. The devices also collected accelerometer data, which provided detailed information about the behavior of the birds, measuring the acceleration of the birds.

Currently, the research team is working on developing trackers at UEA with colleagues from the British Trust for Ornithology and the University of Lisbon.

The data that the devices collected enabled researchers to monitor the movement of the storks between nesting and feeding areas, see how many long and short distance flights they were taking, and examine their behaviors.

Should the landfill sits close, there could be a very detrimental impact on the birds.

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