The Oriental white stork is also known as the Japanese white stork and the Far Eastern white stork. With a body length of 43 to 45 inches (110 to 115 centimeters) and a wingspan of about 46 inches (118 centimeters), it is bigger than its cousin, the European white stork.
It has a distinctive black bill and long white wings with black tips. Male Oriental white storks, weighing about 11 pounds (5 kilograms) are larger than females, which weigh about 10 pounds (4.7 kilograms).
The Oriental white stork’s diet is made up of insects, fish, frogs, snails, small reptiles, and small mammals, such as rodents. The stork is a migratory bird, traveling very long distances to relocate seasonally. It tends to be quite aggressive with other members of its species.
Breeding male and female Oriental white storks make their nests in sections of the forest as far away from human communities as possible. The nests are made from branches and straw and are about 6.5 feet (2 meters) in diameter. The female stork usually lays about four or five eggs. Then the male and the female take turns incubating, or sitting on the eggs to keep them warm.
When the chicks are born, both parents feed them by regurgitating (vomiting) undigested food into their mouths. The young leave the nest after about 65 days and begin to find their own food. In captivity an Oriental white stork lives about 48 years.
Habitat and current distribution
The Oriental white stork lives only in the wilderness. It currently breeds in the Amur and Ussuri regions of southeast Siberia in Russia and in northeast China. These storks migrate each winter.
Most travel a distance of about 1,860 miles (3,000 kilometers) to spend the winter in the Yangtze River valley in China. Some storks winter in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, and North and South Korea. The total population of Oriental white storks in the world is estimated to be between 2,000 and 2,500 individual birds.
History and conservation measures
The reasons for the decline in the Oriental white stork population are human–related. The trees that the storks nest in have been cleared and the wetlands (areas where there is a lot of water in the soil, such as swamps or tidal flats) where they find their food have been drained.
In Japan and the Koreas, people hunted the birds until the population had totally vanished from those countries. Pollution has probably further reduced the populations.
In China, the building of the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River and other hydro–electric (creating electricity from water power) projects are expected to have a heavy impact on the Oriental white stork’s habitat. In Russia, development of the wetlands for farming has crowded the birds into increasingly smaller regions.
Russia, China, South Korea, and Japan have enacted strictly enforced laws protecting the Oriental white stork. After the species became extinct within the country, Japan created special reserves for the stork, notably the Hyogo Prefecture in Toyooka City, established on the site where storks once nested in Japan. There, Oriental white storks have been bred in captivity; about 200 now exist in the reserve.
The reserve has a special section where storks are trained to hunt and fly before being released into the wild. It also has facilities for research into the species. Russia and South Korea have also established reserves for the Oriental white stork.
Conservationists (people who work to protect nature and natural resources) are studying ways to create a better habitat for the storks by planting elm trees near their feeding areas.
One of the great difficulties in conservation with this species is its migratory (relocating) habits: its welfare depends on the abilities of several countries to work in concert with one another to protect it.