The Italian Almanac

stork nest

Nesting Platforms for Storks

Storks are famous for 'helping' humans bring their young to the world, but the roles are being reversed in southern Italy thanks to the efforts of environmentalists and energy giant ENEL. After centuries away from Italy, these magnificent birds are gradually returning here for their summer chick-rearing thanks to 'nesting platforms' set up at the top of electricity pylons in Calabria.

The platforms, mounted by the Italian Bird Protection League (LIPU) and ENEL, have helped take southern Italy's stork population from zero to four couples over the last few years. "The aim of the artificial platforms is to attract migrating couples to nest here," said Roberto Santopaolo, one of the directors of the LIPU branch in the Calabrian town of Rende. "Experience has shown us that areas which are seemingly ideal for this species frequently are not used because there aren't any suitable sites for the storks to build their nests on".

Although the white stork has traditionally summered in spots across Europe, from Greece as far north as Estonia, the birds stopped nesting in Italy some 300 years ago, scared off by over-hunting and nest disturbances. Similar problems in other parts of Europe have made life increasingly tough for the bird in recent decades, a situation exacerbated by chemical pollution and electrocution from power cables, which kill off up to 60% of migrating storks.

The first stork couple returned to Calabria in 1996. Since then three more couples have joined them - the fourth arrived this week - thanks to the platforms. ENEL and LIPU laid latticework between electricity poles at several sites to provide convenient, safe platforms for the birds. ENEL have also set up observation huts and installed video cameras to monitor the storks and they are insulating electric cables to prevent the birds electrocuting themselves in flight.

The Calabrian project is part of an Italy-wide LIPU scheme, which includes campaigns aimed at educating the public on the difficulties faced by the white stork. Similar projects have been launched in other European countries in recent years. But despite bird-lovers' best efforts, the population remains unstable, partly because of difficulties faced by the bird in Africa, where a drop in rainfall and locust control programs (a major source of food) have hit the species hard.

The birds start arriving in Europe in April, constructing their homes from branches and sticks bound with grass and rags. Once couples have selected a nesting site, they reuse it the following season, adding to it each year. The young hatch about a month after the eggs have been Laid. In August, the offspring, usually about three, are ready to set off with their parents for the wintering grounds in Africa, south of the Sahara.