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Swiss storks under threat

Storks nest down for the night

(Keystone Archive)

Swiss Storks face a perilious journey to their summer nesting grounds in Africa and southern Europe - many don't make it back.

For the past 100 years, the country's stork population has steadily declined and today the situation is worse than ever. For every ten storks that are born in Switzerland only one will come back to breed.

S.O.S. stork

Troubled by the increasing absence of these "legendary" creatures, S.O.S. stork, a Fribourg-based conservation group, has been carrying out research into why they are no longer a regular sight in Switzerland.

They have been tagging white storks in Switzerland, Alsace and southern Germany for the past couple of years in an attempt to gain a better understanding of their migration patterns.

For the past two years, they have tracked and monitored 20 storks via small transmitting devices, which the birds wear on their backs in mini-rucksacks. The transmitters send out constant radio signals, which are picked up by satellites.

From their research, they have discovered that the birds face many dangers caused by our everyday life and the development of their natural habitat.

Electricity pylons

One of the biggest dangers they face is electricity pylons. S.O.S stork found that one out of every ten storks migrating over Lake Geneva en route to Africa died in the web of electricity pylons.

Because of this, S.O.S stork has recommended that pylons close to nesting grounds be fitted with some sort of signalling device to warn storks of the danger.

It is a similar story in Spain, where the storks stop off on their way to the African plains. Many of them nest overnight on electricity pylons and are killed in their sleep.

In one instance last year, 127 dead storks were found under electricity pylons near a Spanish rubbish dump, where the migrating birds had gone in search of food.

Destination: Niger Delta

The researchers also discovered that the giant birds do not simply head for the Niger Delta, their normal winter home. Some remain in Spain, while others stop off in Gibraltar and never leave.

The majority, however, fly to the Delta. But during particularly wet years, the storks head to the grasslands of Mauritania and Mali, where they gorge themselves on swarms of grasshoppers.

S.O.S stork hopes that by better understanding the birds' migratory patterns, the dangers that lie in their paths can be reduced. It also hopes that by improving their survival rate during migration, more and more will return to Switzerland to breed.

by Sally Mules with agencies

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