Are they stork raving mad, or just smart cookies? Either way, Europe’s White Storks seem to have found a year-round food source, and it’s changing their migration habits, according to new research. Move over gulls, you’ve now got competition at the landfills.

The paper, published in the journal Movement Ecology, describes a striking change in White Storks’ migratory behavior. Instead of wintering in Africa and breeding in Europe, growing numbers of the birds now appear to be staying put in Spain and Portugal. Specifically, these new residents have discovered the ample supply of “junk food” to be had at landfills. (Makes sense—why drive for take-out when you’ve got a permanent dine-in option?)

Dependence on landfills means the birds spend less energy foraging, especially outside of breeding season. And it enables them to begin breeding earlier, at the best nearby nesting sites. Even those storks living at a distance from the landfills were willing to travel roundtrip up to 60 miles—or nearly 100 kilometers—to, as the authors so aptly put it, “get their fix” of junk food. The researchers note, though, that EU landfill regulations may change the way that food waste is handled, thereby robbing resident White Storks (and their gull partners-in-grime) of the smorgasbords to which they’ve become accustomed, and challenging their ability to feed themselves and their families over the winter.

Cegonhas - marcação 078

Images courtesy of the authors and the University of East Anglia.

Written by Meredith Mann
The lowly Red-winged Blackbirds in suburban New York triggered Meredith Mann's interest in birds. Five years later, she's explored some of the the USA's coolest hotspots, from Plum Island in Massachusetts to the Magic Hedge in Chicago to the deserts of Fallon, Nevada. She recently migrated from the Windy City (where she proudly served as a Chicago Bird Collision Monitor, rescuing migrants from skyscrapers and sidewalks) to Philadelphia, where she plans to find new editing and writing gigs; keep up her cool-finds chronicle, Blog5B; and discover which cheesesteak really is the best. And she will accept any and all invitations to bird Cape May, NJ.