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Storks are large, long-legged, long-necked wading birds with long, stout bills. They belong to the family Ciconiidae. They are the only family in the order Ciconiiformes, which was once much larger and held a number of families.
Storks dwell in many regions and tend to live in drier habitats than the closely related herons, spoonbills and ibises; they also lack the powder down that those groups use to clean off fish slime. Storks have no syrinx and are mute, giving no call; bill-clattering is an important mode of communication at the nest. Many species are migratory. Most storks eat frogs, fish, insects, earthworms, small birds and small mammals. There are nineteen living species of storks in six genera.
Various terms are used to refer to groups of storks, two frequently used ones being a muster of storks and a phalanx of storks.
Storks tend to use soaring, gliding flight, which conserves energy. Soaring requires thermal air currents. Ottomar Anschütz's famous 1884 album of photographs of storks inspired the design of Otto Lilienthal's experimental gliders of the late nineteenth century. Storks are heavy, with wide wingspans: the marabou stork, with a wingspan of 3.2 metres (10.5 feet) and weight up to 8 kg (18 lbs), joins the Andean condor in having the widest wingspan of all living land birds.
Their nests are often very large and may be used for many years. Some nests have been known to grow to over two metres (six feet) in diameter and about three metres (ten feet) in depth. Storks were once thought to be monogamous, but this is only partially true. They may change mates after migrations, and may migrate without a mate. They tend to be attached to nests as much as partners.
Storks' size, serial monogamy, and faithfulness to an established nesting site contribute to their prominence in mythology and culture.
The Modern English word can be traced back to Proto-Germanic *sturkaz. Nearly every Germanic language has a descendant of this proto-language word to indicate the (white) stork. Related names also occur in some Slavic languages, originating as Germanic loanwords.
According to the New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, the Germanic root is probably related to the modern English "stark", in reference to the stiff or rigid posture of a European species, the white stork. A non-Germanic word linked to it may be Greek torgos ("vulture").
In some West Germanic languages cognate words of a different etymology exist. They originate from *uda-faro, uda being related to water meaning something like swamp or moist area and faro being related to fare; so *uda-faro is something like he who walks in the swamp. In later times this name got reanalysed as *ōdaboro, ōda "fortune, wealth" + boro "bearer" meaning he who brings wealth adding to the myth of storks as maintainers of welfare and bringers of children.
In Estonian, "stork" is toonekurg, which is derived from toonela (underworld in Estonian folklore) + kurg (crane). It may seem not to make sense to associate the now-common white stork with death, but at the times storks were named, the now-rare black stork was probably the more common species.
The centres of stork diversity are in tropical Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, with eight and six breeding species respectively. Just three species are present in the New World: wood stork, maguari stork and jabiru, which is the largest flying bird of the Americas. Two species, white and black stork, reach Europe and western temperate Asia, while one species, Oriental stork, reaches temperate areas of eastern Asia, and one species, black-necked stork, is found in Australasia.
Following the development of research techniques in molecular biology in the late 20th century, in particular methods for studying DNA-DNA hybridization, a great deal of new information has surfaced, much of it suggesting that many birds, although looking very different from one another, are in fact more closely related than was previously thought. Accordingly, the radical and influential Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy greatly enlarged the Ciconiiformes, adding many more families, including most of those usually regarded as belonging to the Sphenisciformes (penguins), Gaviiformes (divers), Podicipediformes (grebes), Procellariiformes (tube-nosed seabirds), Charadriiformes, (waders, gulls, terns and auks), Pelecaniformes (pelicans, cormorants, gannets and allies), and the Falconiformes (diurnal birds of prey). The flamingo family, Phoenicopteridae, is related, and is sometimes classed as part of the Ciconiiformes.
However, morphological evidence suggests that the traditional Ciconiiformes should be split between two lineages, rather than expanded, although some non-traditional Ciconiiformes may be included in these two lineages.
The exact taxonomic placement of New World vultures remains unclear. Though both are similar in appearance and have similar ecological roles, the New World and Old World vultures evolved from different ancestors in different parts of the world and are not closely related. Just how different the two families are is currently under debate, with some earlier authorities suggesting that the New World vultures belong in Ciconiiformes. More recent authorities maintain their overall position in the order Falconiformes along with the Old World vultures or place them in their own order, Cathartiformes. The South American Classification Committee has removed the New World vultures from Ciconiiformes and instead placed them in Incertae sedis, but notes that a move to Falconiformes or Cathartiformes is possible.
Some official bodies have adopted the proposed Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy almost entirely; however, a more common approach worldwide has been to retain the traditional groupings, and modify rather than replace them in the light of new evidence as it comes to hand. The family listing here follows this more conservative practice. Bird taxonomy has been in a state of flux for some years, and it is reasonable to expect that the large differences between different classification schemes will continue gradually to resolve themselves as more evidence becomes available.
Storks were distinct and possibly widespread by the Oligocene. Like most families of aquatic birds, storks seem to have arisen in the Palaeogene, maybe 40–50 million years ago (mya). For the fossil record of living genera, documented since the Middle Miocene (about 15 mya) at least in some cases, see the genus articles.
Though some storks are highly threatened, no species or subspecies are known to have gone extinct in historic times. A Ciconia bone found in a rock shelter on the island of Réunion was probably of a bird taken there as food by early settlers; no known account mentions the presence of storks on the Mascarene Islands.
- Genus Mycteria
- Genus Anastomus
- Genus Ciconia
- Genus Ephippiorhynchus
- Genus Jabiru
- Jabiru, Jabiru mycteria
- Genus Leptoptilos
- Genus Palaeoephippiorhynchus (fossil: Early Oligocene of Fayyum, Egypt)
- Genus Grallavis (fossil: Early Miocene of Saint-Gérand-le-Puy, France, and Djebel Zelten, Libya) – may be same as Prociconia
- Ciconiidae gen. et sp. indet. (Ituzaingó Late Miocene of Paraná, Argentina)[note 1]
- Ciconiidae gen. et sp. indet. (Puerto Madryn Late Miocene of Punta Buenos Aires, Argentina)[note 2]
- Genus Prociconia (fossil: Late Pleistocene of Brazil) – may belong to modern genus Jabiru or Ciconia
- Genus Pelargosteon (fossil: Early Pleistocene of Romania)
- Ciconiidae gen. et sp. indet. – formerly Aquilavus/Cygnus bilinicus (fossil: Early Miocene of Břešťany, Czechia)
- cf. Leptoptilos gen. et sp. indet. – formerly L. siwalicensis (fossil: Late Miocene? – Late Pliocene of Siwalik, India)
- Ciconiidae gen. et sp. indet. (fossil: Late Pleistocene of San Josecito Cavern, Mexico)
The fossil genera Eociconia (Middle Eocene of China) and Ciconiopsis (Deseado Early Oligocene of Patagonia, Argentina) are often tentatively placed with this family. A "ciconiiform" fossil fragment from the Touro Passo Formation found at Arroio Touro Passo (Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil) might be of the living wood stork M. americana; it is at most of Late Pleistocene age, a few 10,000s of years.
- About the Wood Stork: Denizens of the Wetlands, Accessed on 13.12.2010
- Remsen, J. V., Jr.; C. D. Cadena; A. Jaramillo; M. Nores; J. F. Pacheco; M. B. Robbins; T. S. Schulenberg; F. G. Stiles; D. F. Stotz & K. J. Zimmer. 2007. A classification of the bird species of South America. South American Classification Committee. Retrieved on 15 October 2007
- Sibley, Charles G. and Burt L. Monroe. 1990. Distribution and Taxonomy of the Birds of the World. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-04969-2. Accessed 11 April 2007.
- Sibley, Charles G., and Jon E. Ahlquist. (1991) Phylogeny and Classification of Birds: A Study in Molecular Evolution. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-04085-7. Accessed 11 April 2007.
- Ericson, Per G. P.; Anderson, Cajsa L.; Britton, Tom; Elżanowski, Andrzej; Johansson, Ulf S.; Kallersjö, Mari; Ohlson, Jan I.; Parsons, Thomas J.; Zuccon, Dario & Mayr, Gerald (2006). "Diversification of Neoaves: integration of molecular sequence data and fossils". Biology Letters 2 (4): 543–7. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2006.0523. PMC 1834003. PMID 17148284. Electronic Supplementary Material
- Cione, Alberto Luis; de las Mercedes Azpelicueta, María; Bond, Mariano; Carlini, Alfredo A.; Casciotta, Jorge R.; Cozzuol, Mario Alberto; de la Fuente, Marcelo; Gasparini, Zulma; Goin, Francisco J.; Noriega, Jorge; Scillatoyané, Gustavo J.; Soibelzon, Leopoldo; Tonni, Eduardo Pedro; Verzi, Diego & Guiomar Vucetich, María (2000): Miocene vertebrates from Entre Ríos province, eastern Argentina. [English with Spanish abstract] In: Aceñolaza, F.G. & Herbst, R. (eds.): El Neógeno de Argentina. INSUGEO Serie Correlación Geológica 14: 191–237. PDF fulltext
- Noriega, Jorge Ignacio & Cladera, Gerardo (2005): First Record of Leptoptilini (Ciconiiformes: Ciconiidae) in the Neogene of South America. Abstracts of Sixth International Meeting of the Society of Avian Paleontology and Evolution: 47. PDF fulltext
- Specimens BMNH 39741 (holotype, left proximal tarsometatarsus) and BMNH 39734 (right distal tibiotarsus). Similar to Ephippiorhynchus and Leptotilos, may be from a small female of Leptotilos falconeri, from L. dubius, or from another species: Louchart, Antoine; Vignaud, Patrick; Likius, Andossa; Brunet, Michel & and White, Tim D. (2005). "A large extinct marabou stork in African Pliocene hominid sites, and a review of the fossil species of Leptoptilos". Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 50 (3): 549–563.
- Distal radius of a mid-sized Ciconia or smallish Mycteria: Steadman, David W.; Arroyo-Cabrales, Joaquin; Johnson, Eileen & Guzman, A. Fabiola (1994). "New Information on the Late Pleistocene Birds from San Josecito Cave, Nuevo León, Mexico". Condor 96 (3): 577–589. doi:10.2307/1369460.
- Schmaltz Hsou, Annie (2007): O estado atual do registro fóssil de répteis e aves no Pleistoceno do Estado do Rio Grande do Sul, Brasil ["The current state of the fossil record of Pleistocene reptiles and birds of Rio Grande do Sul"]. Talk held on 2007-JUN-20 at Quaternário do RS: integrando conhecimento, Canoas, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. PDF abstract
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