A recent study reveals that storks are forgoing migration to hang around and snack on trash.
A startling new study from researchers at the University of East Anglia further reveals the extent of human activities on the world’s wildlife. According to a report from Gizmodo, scientists have found that white storks are increasingly giving up their traditional migration routes in favor of hanging around landfills to munch on garbage.
White storks migrate from Europe to Africa annually, but the number of birds that make this journey has been steadily declining since the 1980s. A growing mass of the storks is camping out in Spain and Portugal throughout the winter, where massive landfills provide easy pickings. The birds are even feeding the garbage to their young, causing concerns among biologists.
According to lead author and ecologist at the University of East Anglia Dr. Aldina Franco, “Portugal’s stork population has grown ten fold over the last 20 years. The country is now home to around 14,000 wintering birds, and numbers continue to grow.”
The study followed 48 storks fitted with GPS tracking devices. Researchers found that European storks are staking out plots in landfills rich in food and defending them ferociously. Storks’ taste for garbage has completely redefined their migratory paths, and the study mimics research that found similar patterns in eight different stork populations across Europe and Asia.
Storks were long considered a “majestic” bird, but have recently joined the ranks of other trash-loving animals like rats, raccoons and possums. Scientists aren’t sure what the potential ecological effects of the changes to storks’ migratory patterns could be, but their absence in Africa during the winter months could have huge unforeseen impacts.
“These are exciting times to study animal migration,” said Dr. Franco. “Several species, including the white stork, which used to be fully migratory in Europe now have resident populations. We want to understand the causes and the mechanisms behind these changes in migratory behavior.”
A press release from the University of East Anglia describing the details of the study can be found here.