Ciconia nigrablack stork

Geographic Range

Black storks (Ciconia nigra) have the widest geographical range of any species in the stork family (Ciconiidae). They are found throughout the Palearctic, from Spain to China during the nesting season. In autumn, C. nigra individuals migrate south to South Africa and India to overwinter. ("Storks (Ciconiidae)", 2003; Campbell, 1974; Perring and Middleton, 1985; Perring, 1990; Sibley and Monroe, 1990; Thompson, 1964)


Black storks breed in quiet, wooded areas which are close to water. They build nests high in trees and forage in marshy wetlands and rivers. They can be found in hilly, mountainous terrain also, as long as there is enough water nearby for foraging. Less is known about their wintering range, but they are presumably found in wetland areas in which they hunt for food. ("Storks (Ciconiidae)", 2003; Campbell, 1974; Perring and Middleton, 1985; Perring, 1990; Sibley and Monroe, 1990; Thompson, 1964)

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • rivers and streams
  • temporary pools
  • Range elevation
    2000 (high) m
    6561.68 (high) ft

Physical Description

Similar to white storks, black storks are large birds with sturdy builds, weighing approximately 3 kilograms. They are 95 to 100 cm tall with a wingspan of 144 to 155 cm. They have long necks, bills, and legs, short tails, and wide wings. They have a black body with varying green and purple gloss on the feathers and white areas on the breast and belly. The bill and legs are scarlet red, intensifying during mating season. In winter months, the bill and legs turn brown.

Males are larger than females, but the sexes are otherwise alike. Young black storks do not have as a rich coloration to their feathers, but these colors become vibrant by one year of age. ("Storks (Ciconiidae)", 2003; Campbell, 1974; Perring and Middleton, 1985; Thompson, 1964)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Average mass
    3000 g
    105.73 oz
  • Range length
    95 to 100 cm
    37.40 to 39.37 in
  • Range wingspan
    144 to 155 cm
    56.69 to 61.02 in


Black storks have a similar mating system to their white stork relatives. Males and females exchange an “up-down” courtship. One raises its head and drops it back down and rests it on the back of its body. This is accompanied by vocalizations called bill-clattering. The bird snaps its top and bottom jaws, creating the clattering sound. Unlike white storks, C. nigra does not continually vocalize, but has infrequent clattering that may last throughout the night. Once a mate has been found, black storks are seasonally monogamous, remaining with their mate through the breeding season but not across years. ("Storks (Ciconiidae)", 2003; Perring and Middleton, 1985; Thompson, 1964)

Ciconia nigra breed annually in late April or May. Females lay between 3 to 5 white, oval eggs per clutch in large nests made of sticks and mud. These nests are often reused over many seasons. Parents will sometimes inadvertently care for birds from other nests, including the young of black eagles (Ictinaetus malayensis) and hamerkops (Scopus umbretta). ("Storks (Ciconiidae)", 2003; Campbell, 1974; Perring and Middleton, 1985; Thompson, 1964)

It takes 32 to 38 days for black stork eggs to hatch and up to 71 days until the young fledge. After fledging, young black storks remain dependent on parent storks. They do not gain independence for a few weeks after fledging, and are not sexually mature until they are 3 to 5 years old. ("Storks (Ciconiidae)", 2003; Campbell, 1974; Perring and Middleton, 1985; Thompson, 1964)

  • Breeding interval
    Black storks breed once annually.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding takes place in late April or May.
  • Range eggs per season
    3 to 5
  • Range time to hatching
    32 to 38 days
  • Range fledging age
    63 to 71 days
  • Average time to independence
    3 weeks
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    3 to 5 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    3 to 5 years

Male and female black storks share in the care of their young. Males and females build nests. Males determine where the nest is to be located and collect the sticks, mud, and grass. Females assemble the nest. Incubation is the responsibility of both male and female storks, though females are generally the primary incubators. When nest temperatures become too hot, parents occasionally regurgitate water onto the eggs and young to cool them down. ("Storks (Ciconiidae)", 2003; Perring and Middleton, 1985; Sibley and Monroe, 1990; Thompson, 1964)

Both parents feed the young. Food is regurgitated onto the nest floor and the young black storks will feed off the bottom of the nest. ("Storks (Ciconiidae)", 2003; Perring and Middleton, 1985; Thompson, 1964)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female


Black storks have been recorded living as long as 18 years in the wild and longer, 31 years, in captivity. (delHoyo, et al., 1992)


Known for their shy and solitary behavior, C. nigra tend to stay far from human activity and development. Black storks are solitary outside of the breeding season, when they occur in loose clusters of nesting pairs. Black storks are migratory and active during the day. ("Storks (Ciconiidae)", 2003; Campbell, 1974; Perring and Middleton, 1985; Thompson, 1964)

Black storks walk purposefully on the ground, with a steady stride. They perch and stand upright, often on one leg. These birds are excellent fliers, flying high in warm currents of air. In the air, they keep their head below the line of their bodies, stretching out the neck. Other than migration, C. nigra do not fly in formation or in flocks. ("Storks (Ciconiidae)", 2003; Campbell, 1974; Perring and Middleton, 1985; Thompson, 1964)

Home Range

Black storks tend to stay close to their nests in wooded areas during breeding season, but home range sizes are not known. ("Storks (Ciconiidae)", 2003)

Communication and Perception

Though they are loudest of all storks, C. nigra are fairly quiet birds. They have few loud vocalizations, using low grunts, whistles and hisses, in a che lee che lee pattern. Most vocal communication takes place in the form of the bill-chattering during mating season. ("Storks (Ciconiidae)", 2003; Campbell, 1974; Perring and Middleton, 1985; Thompson, 1964)

Information is processed visually by C. nigra. They hunt by eye-sight, unlike some of their relatives, which catch prey by touch. Black storks also use vision and sound when finding a mate. ("Storks (Ciconiidae)", 2003; Campbell, 1974; Perring and Middleton, 1985; Thompson, 1964)

  • Other Communication Modes
  • duets

Food Habits

These carnivorous birds locate prey by standing in the water with wings outstretched. They also walk stealthily with their heads down in order to see prey. When one spots food, it lunges its head forward, grabbing with its long bill. Black storks tend to hunt on their own unless food is abundant, when larger groups form to take advantage of rich food resources. ("Storks (Ciconiidae)", 2003; Campbell, 1974; Hampl, et al., 2005; Perring and Middleton, 1985)

The diet includes frogs, salamanders, eels, small reptiles, fish, and occasional small mammals. During breeding season, fish make up the majority of the diet. ("Storks (Ciconiidae)", 2003; Campbell, 1974; Hampl, et al., 2005; Perring and Middleton, 1985; Thompson, 1964)

  • Animal Foods
  • mammals
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • fish
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • mollusks


There are no documented natural predators of C. nigra. Humans are the only known species to threaten black storks. Much of this threat is due to habitat destruction and some hunting. (IUCN, 2004; UNEP, 2006)

Ecosystem Roles

Black storks are predators of small vertebrates in the ecosystems they inhabit. They prey on mostly aquatic life, such as fish and amphibians. In some areas of Europe, mostly Spain, C. nigra are hosts to Cathaemasia hians, a trematode. The temperature of the black stork's digestive tract allows for the trematode to complete its life cycle. The trematode is usually found in its primary host, fish species, but gets taken up by C. nigra through feeding. It is then passed to young by the black storks feeding of the young. Because such feeding takes place by adult regurgitation, Cathaemasia hians are also found on the nest floor, infecting all nestlings. (Merino, et al., 2001)

Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Aside from their beauty and importance in their native ecosystems, there are no known positive effects of C. nigra on humans.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of C. nigra on humans.

Conservation Status

The IUCN Red List has classified C. nigra as Least Concern. There is a global population of 32,000 to 44,000 individuals of black storks. The population is decreasing, mostly due to deforestation and destruction of habitat. Black storks have also been hunted. During migration, many storks die during collisions with power lines. In some areas in their wintering range in Africa C. nigra is also protected by law. (IUCN, 2004; UNEP, 2006)


Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Naseem Mazloom (author), Kalamazoo College, Ann Fraser (editor, instructor), Kalamazoo College.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

to jointly display, usually with sounds in a highly coordinated fashion, at the same time as one other individual of the same species, often a mate


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


an animal that mainly eats fish


Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone


a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


uses sight to communicate


2003. Storks (Ciconiidae). Pp. 265-268, 271-272 in M Hutchins, J Jackson, D Olendorf, eds. Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, Vol. 8, 2 Edition. New York: Gale.

Campbell, B. 1974. The Dictionary of Birds in Color. New York: Viking Press.

Hampl, R., S. Bureš, P. Baláž, M. Bobek, F. Pojer. 2005. Food provisioning and nestling diet of the black stork in the Czech Republic. Waterbirds, 28/1: 35-40.

IUCN, 2004. "The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species" (On-line). Accessed October 15, 2006 at

Merino, S., J. Martinez, P. Lazarot, L. Cano, M. Fernandez-Garcia, F. Rodriguez-Caabeiro. 2001. Cathaemasia hians (Trematoda: Cathaemasiidae) infecting black stork nestilings (Ciconia nigra) from central Spain. Avian Pathology, 30/5: 559-561.

Perring, C. 1990. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Birds. New York: Prentice Hall.

Perring, C., A. Middleton. 1985. The Encyclopedia of Birds. Oxford: Equinox.

Sibley, C., B. Monroe. 1990. Distribution and Taxonomy of Birds of the World. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Thompson, A. 1964. A New Dictionary of Birds. New York: McGraw Hill.

UNEP, 2006. "

Appendices I, II and III
" (On-line). Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Accessed October 15, 2006 at

delHoyo, J., A. Elliot, J. Sargatal. 1992. Handbook of Birds of the World. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions.