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White stork

Ciconia ciconia

A large white bird steeped in folklore and poised for a comeback in Britain.

Pair of white storks standing in a nest among the branches
White storks prefer open grasslands and tend to avoid densely wooded areas.  © Azahara Perez / Shutterstock

How it shapes the landscape

White storks are true opportunists, with a diverse diet including small mammals, frogs, toads, lizards, insects and small birds. Over successive years they build large nests which are sought after by returning storks – apparently because the size of the nest indicates previously successful breeding seasons. The nests are often home to other species including house sparrows and starlings and occasionally kestrels, owls and jackdaws, among others.

Where it likes to be

White storks prefer open grasslands and wetlands and tend to avoid densely wooded areas. They overwinter in Africa or southern Europe, before returning to Britain for the summer months. The quality and availability of habitat along their migration route are essential to their survival. 

How much space they need

White storks are migratory visitors to Britain and favour returning to nesting sites where broods have been successfully raised before. They stay close to their nest while raising their young, and tend to hunt within 5km of their nesting site. In late summer, these magnificent birds migrate to the south, remaining there until they are ready to breed.

White stork in grassland close-up
 © Szczepan Klejbuk / Shutterstock


White storks can live for up to 40 years, with their average lifespan being 20 – 35 years.


White storks originally benefited from the clearance of woodland in Britain and elsewhere in Europe, which increased the availability of their favoured habitats of grasslands and wetlands. However, prior to 2020, the last breeding pair to be recorded in Britain was in 1416, nesting on a cathedral in Edinburgh. Globally, their numbers have declined due to industrialisation and habitat loss.

Two storks in a nest
Storks' nests are so big that many other species nest within them.  © Knepp Wildland


White storks are native to the British Isles and visit frequently. In 2020, the first two wild breeding pairs successfully nested at Knepp Estate following reintroduction efforts. This was the first time in 600 years that white storks had bred in Britain. In the first four breeding seasons, 68 chicks successfully fledged. 

Two captive breeding schemes are currently underway in southern England as part of The White Stork Project in partnership with Cotswold Wildlife Park and Knepp Estate. The project aims to re-establish 50 wild breeding pairs of white storks in southern Britain by 2030. As of today, more than 250 storks have been set free across various project locations, including Surrey, West Sussex and East Sussex. The continued release of captive-bred birds further enhances colony populations and promotes migratory instincts. 

White storks are a sight to behold and their nests, often built so close to civilisation, are widely thought of as a good omen. The White Stork Project is a fantastic first step in bringing these iconic creatures back into our everyday lives.


  • A bird native to the British Isles, currently being reintroduced, with 250 individuals already released across various project locations
  • Their bright red beak and legs are a result of carotenoids in their diet — the same pigments that make carrots orange
  • During the winter, flocks of this social bird can reach thousands of individuals
  • Partly because these birds are comfortable nesting on buildings, the folklore and cultural traditions surrounding storks are among the richest involving any bird species
White stork being released at Knepp Wildland
 © Knepp Wildland

Rewilding in action

Species such as the white stork play a vital role in many ecosystems across Britain.

Find out about the projects putting rewilding into action through reintroducing white storks by searching the Rewilding Network map using the species filter.