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Storks abandon migration to live in landfills in Spain – Science-Environment News – Report by AFR

At a sprawling rubbish dump near Madrid, hundreds of white storks dodge garbage trucks as they search for scraps of food among piles of colorful garbage bags.

The long-legged birds have traditionally flown to African pastures from across Europe for the winter, returning in the spring.

But the abundant food supply in landfills, combined with warmer weather, means more and more storks are skipping the arduous journey and spending the winter in Spain.

“For us, they’re part of the landscape,” says Carlos Pinto, a garbage collector at a landfill site in Pinto, about 30 kilometers south of Madrid.

Between 200 and 300 tons of food waste ends up in the landfill every day, and the storks immediately head to the zones “where there’s fresh garbage,” he added.

The scene is repeated across Spain, with many storks choosing to nest near landfill sites where they live year-round.

In Alcala de Henares, the birthplace of “Don Quijote” author Miguel de Cervantes near Madrid, white storks have become a symbol of the city due to their large number.

“There are storks everywhere you look,” says Almudena Soriano, the town’s veterinarian.

Stork nests crown Alcala’s bell towers and the clatter of their long beaks can be heard throughout the city.

In 1970 the city had just ten stork nests. A census conducted in 2021 found 109 nests – more than 10 times that – which housed up to 300 storks.

– rubbish buffet –

Soriano estimates that “about 70 percent of storks no longer migrate to Africa,” largely because of the readily available food they can find in landfills in Spain.

This allows them to avoid the dangerous crossing of the Strait of Gibraltar, which separates Spain from Morocco and is only 14 kilometers long but often buffeted by strong winds.

“Many die along the way. The adult storks that have already made the journey do not want to repeat the experience,” says Soriano.

“And since they move to find food, for them an open dump is an all-you-can-eat buffet. You don’t have to go anymore.”

A 2020 census by SEO Birdlife found 36,217 white storks in Spain.

Spain used to be just a stopover on the birds’ annual migration to Africa, but now significant numbers of white storks overwinter in the country, according to the NGO.

This includes storks born in Spain as well as those originating from further north European countries such as Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands.

Some storks return to northern Europe after the winter, while others stay in Spain permanently.

Younger storks still have the instinct to migrate to Africa, but they make the journey without their parents, said Blas Molina, SEO Birdlife’s ornithologist.

– climate change –

While the ready availability of food in landfills is the main reason storks have stopped migrating, it is also “probably due to the trend towards higher temperatures” caused by climate change, the NGO said in a recent report.

Adult storks are staying “a little further north” in the Iberian Peninsula, while previously making stops in the southeastern region of Extremadura and Andalusia to the south, Molina said.

The change in the stork’s migratory habits is a clear example of the “impact of human activity on biodiversity,” he added.

The municipality of Pinto is considering covering its landfill to prevent storks from swallowing plastic and other potentially harmful objects. If so, the storks can leave.

Alcala closed its landfill last year but set up huge feeding stations to ensure the storks had enough to eat and stayed in town.

The program appears to be working as the city’s stork populations have remained stable.

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