We’d heard storks were the emblem for Alsace, we just didn’t expect to see two giant nests the minute we drove up to Euguisheim, our first Alsatian town.
Storks were once plentiful in the area. For centuries, the storks of Alsace lived among humans, building their nests on Alsace’s buildings.
They migrated every year to Africa ( mostly Mali and Mauritania), a 12,000 kilometer (7456 mile) journey. Over the years, their population decreased until the 1980’s, when only two pairs remained in all of Alsace. There were several causes:
- 90% died on the migration due to hitting power lines, exhaustion and dehydration.
- Urban growth
- Draining of the marshes along the Rhine
- On the annual migration to Africa, large numbers of them smashed into power lines.
- African droughts in their wintering habitat depleted food supplies.
- In warring African nations, starving residents ate them.
Alsace under took a program to repopulate the area with storks. They built stands for the nests in Alsatian trees chimney stacks and bell towers. They also developed stork parks for breeding and raising storks.
For the first three years, young storks are kept in enormous enclosed aviaries to rid them of the instinct to migrate. Alsace took other steps to encourage their repopulation.
- They provided addition food, in the form of fluffy, yellow, day-old chicks (they also eat field mice, snakes, frogs and smaller birds such as sparrows).
- Electric company developed special screens to keep the birds from nesting on poles to decrease electrocutions.
- Between breeding seasons, they repaired deteriorating nests.
- Residents are strictly forbidden to remove nests from their chimneys and rooftops.
Today, many storks do not make the dangerous migration and live in Alsace year round, delighting Alsatians who adore them. Only about half of the Alsatian white stork population migrates. Half those migrating storks travel to the traditional wintering grounds in Africa. Others go to Spain, where open dumpsters provide easy meals. Now, Alsace’s stork population is over 400 nesting pairs!
We visited one of the aviaries and watched storks feed their babies. It was pretty cool. Watching them, we could see why the people of Alsace love these majestic birds. Not all the nests were enclosed. It was exciting to watch the parents soar overhead. Each time, I was so busy staring that I didn’t get my camera ready in time to get a picture. Sorry.
Storks symbolize of happiness and faithfulness/fertility and luck. According to legend, storks deliver new babies to their families. According to Alsatian custom, a child wanting a little brother or sister places a piece of sugar on the window ledge to attract the stork. The hope was that it would leave the precious bundle in exchange for the treat. In case you were wondering, we didn’t leave anything on the windowsill of our hotel room.
Visitors to Alsace, don’t have to look hard for storks (La Cigogne in French). From souvenir shops to decorations, they are everywhere.
- Colorful Colmar (schwingeninswitzerland.wordpress.com)
- Too Much Can Get You Alsauced, Alsace’s Wine Route (Route du Vin) (schwingeninswitzerland.wordpress.com)
- Euguisheim, The Cutest Town In The World? (schwingeninswitzerland.wordpress.com)