Europe and Central Asia
7 Sep 2015

Storks - counted and supported by local volunteers!

Storks nesting on Macedonian roofs: all over Macedonia everyone knows that storks’ nests should never be harmed. Photo: MES
By Ksenija Putilin

The best-known and most iconic migratory bird in Macedonia is the stork. Which is why we were excited to conduct a national census as part of our Mediterranean Flyways project, the NABU-funded stork census initiative and the EuroNatur European Stork Village Network – we knew that this would be very important scientifically but it would also show us just how strong our ties are with our Local Conservation Groups and volunteers.

The census showed that we have 817 active nests in Macedonia, occupied by 2027 juvenile storks, but it took over 20 volunteers and the involvement of the local population from over 1000 villages to collect the data.

“The stork census was completed in the middle of July, just before the juvenile storks leave the nests. It was a mammoth task and we are extremely grateful to all of the local conservationists and stork-lovers who made it happen”

states Ksenija Putilin from the Macedonian Ecological Society.

The local volunteers worked in different conditions and found various ways of handling the terrain; one of our volunteers covered his region on a bicycle, two volunteers counted storks on motorbikes, one hiked up hills to get a better look at what is inside each nest and some got lost many times looking for remote locations. However, most of them were excited to report back what they saw and how proud every local was of “their” storks.

This pride of one’s storks sometimes even lead to tensions so the volunteers had to tread carefully when talking about ‘the villages with most storks’, ‘largest nests’ or the commitment of locals who take care of them.

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“We were about to leave a village where we didn’t find a nest so we stopped to check with a local whether this was true and he confirmed it. So, we left the village and drove away but 10 minutes later we were stopped by a shepherd who wanted us to correct the mistake – there was a nest in the village, and it was on his roof!”

reported Bisera Vlahova, an MES volunteer.

But we discovered that this pride in not unfounded - in many villages the locals indeed act as conservationists. In a region of Macedonia which is famous for stork stories the locals have built their own nesting platforms and are looking at ways to improve them so they can get even more storks to stay there.

“I saw a large nest on a roof, but it was very strange so I looked at it from different sides. Then the owner of the house stepped out and explained that it is strangely shaped because he had to put an armchair underneath it when it once almost fell apart”

states Bobi Arsovski, MES volunteer.

“A baby stork fell from the nest before it was ready, so we picked it up and now we keep it in a barn and feed it – he is going to grow strong and migrate with all the others”,

said Vlado, a local from Pelagonia.

All of our teams came back with stories of how the locals are still very strongly connected to these iconic birds. Storks are the stars of many legends, jokes and beliefs. In some regions people grow anxious when the storks start building the nests because it means hard work in the field is about to begin, in other regions people firmly believe that storks protect the villages from predators that might harm their livestock but all over Macedonia everyone knows that storks’ nests should never be harmed.

In a few villages we heard how the locals almost chased out teams of workers who wanted to take down nests for repairs of either electrical poles or roofs.

A volunteer at work. Photo: MESThe last national stork census in Macedonia was conducted in 1958 and it recorded 1132 active nests and 3576 juveniles. Also, unlike today, when most stork nests are on electrical poles or similar constructions, then storks mostly nested on houses.

The participation and support of local people is critical to effective, sustainable conservation. BirdLife’s Local Engagement and Empowerment Programme supports the individuals and organisations who work with the BirdLife Partnership to deliver conservation, for biodiversity and for people, at the local level.

Volunteer profiles - thank you!

Slave (22 from Radovish) is a student of computer science with a keen interest in birds, spiders and nature in general:

"I joined MES 2 years ago and became involved in bird monitoring straight away. Since then I have also actively participated in field work with the Biology Student Research Society. I volunteered to take part in the census so I can cover the region around my home town. Later, I learned that I was the only volunteer who counted storks on bicycle. It was very exciting to learn just how positive the image of storks is in my region and then compare my data with the rest of the regions. Beside the fact that I got to learn more about the ecology of white storks, I was also thrilled to have seen my first black stork".

Magdalena (33 from Skopje) is a lawyer and a first time volunteer for MES:

"I have an office job in Skopje so I don't get to spend much time exploring the scenery in Macedonia. I volunteered because I learned that I could visit a region in Macedonia I have hardly ever seen - the rice fields of Cheshinovo-Obleshevo. It was an amazing experience. I got to see the biggest stork nest in Macedonia, an impressive 3 meter construction one can hardly believe was made by birds; I got to see a heron colony on a tree between the rice-fields; I discovered the unexpected beauty of rice-fields and all the living creatures in them. I especially enjoyed seeing young storks attempting to fly out from the nest and the friendliness of my counting team. My biggest challenge was learning to read maps, the small village roads were a nightmare! I would definitely want to volunteer more with MES".

Generously funded by the MAVA Foundation - the 'Capacity Development for Flyway Conservation in the Mediterranean' initiative aims to establish and strengthen a dynamic network of conservation NGOs working effectively with local people, national governments, and the international community to protect key migratory species, sites and habitats in the Mediterranean region. Thanks also to NABU who funded the stork census initiative and to the EuroNatur European Stork Village Network.

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.