The White Stork, my beautiful queen of Alsace

When the end of the Summer is getting nearer the Alsatian storks are gathering for their yearly long trip to the south … My fascination with the stork goes back to childhood. It was a bird which was much talked about in the books, especially the tales and legends. On the contrary, when I was a child, it was very rare to see the storks in reality. And for a good reason: in the years 1960-70, the storks of Alsace had almost disappeared from the region.

Stork's nest in Ribeauville
Stork’s nest in Ribeauville. In the Middle Ages, the castle of Girsberg that is seen in the background was not in ruins but a stork nest was probably already installed at the top of the tower walls …

Fortunately, ornithologists and enthusiasts, fans of the stork, were mobilized to rescue the emblematic bird of Alsace and, for the past 50 years have done a remarkable job. The white stork, the magnificent white wader, black and red, summer crowning of high roofs of Alsace since the Middle Ages, has returned: nearly 800 couples nest in the area again!

The stork, emblematic bird of Alsace

The White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) is a large wading bird species of the family Ciconiidae. Its feathers mainly white, with black on the wings. Adults have long red legs and a long straight red beak. They are on average 100 to 115 cm from the tip of the beak to the tip of the tail with a wingspan between 155 and 215 cm.

Storks in the nest
Storks in the nest. This picture was taken at the Parc des Cigognes in Hunawihr, just near Riquewihr.

The White Stork of Alsace is a great traveler. It traditionally winters in tropical areas of sub-Saharan Africa. The stork is essentially a glider, allowing it to cover huge distances using thermals of warm air currents. At its migration between Alsace and Africa, it avoids the crossing of the Mediterranean Sea by making a detour to the west by the Strait of Gibraltar since the currents of air ascendants it needs are not formed above water. Neither during the night. Which forces the storks to stop every night

A flying stork
Storks adults have long red legs and a long straight red beak. Storks are excellent gliders.

The White Stork has a carnivorous diet and consumes a wide range of animal prey: insects, mollusks, various other invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals and small birds. She finds most of its food on the ground, among low vegetation, and in shallow water.

White storks looking for food
White storks looking for food

The Rhine Valley and the plain of Ried — especially at a time when the non-channeled river (before 1850) behaved much like the Nile with regular flooding — is ideal for the storks that favors grasslands to find their food, often in the vicinity of rivers, swamps and floodplains.

A millennial fascination for storks

The storks fly over the planet long ago and even before man have made  its appearance. It is a prehistoric bird We found some of the right humerus fossil of a stork on Rusinga Island in Lake Victoria, Kenya. Found in geological layers dating from the Miocene, this fossil dates back 24 to 6 million years!

Stork on the rooftops of Strasbourg.
Stork on the rooftops of Strasbourg. Antique etching. In Alsace and in the Germanic countries, storks were protected because their souls were called human; the presence of a nest on a house was supposed to protect the house of fires.
In ancient Egypt, the stork was associated with the , the “soul” of which she was the hieroglyph. In Hebrew, the stork evokes kindness and mercy. The bird is known to be helpful with other members of its species. The Greek and Roman mythologies depict storks as models for compliance with their parents, who do not die of old age but fly to some islands and take the appearance of human beings

… a bird of good omen, protective and lucky charm.

The white stork is part of Alsatian popular imagery.
The white stork is part of Alsatian popular imagery. Here it overlooks the village of Dambach-la-ville. Drawing of Hansi 1918.
In the Germanic countries, storks were protected because their souls were called human; the presence of a nest on a house was supposed to protect the place of fires.
Stork on the roofs of Colmar. Old drawing
Stork on the roofs of Colmar. Old drawing
“Blessed is the home chosen by the stork to make its nest because the lightning will spare. So the day and the night of St. John the Baptist (24 June 1007), a big storm of lightning fell on the Strasbourg Cathedral and occasioned great damage. The Larousse Encyclopedia tells us: “This belief is so strong in 1007 that the workers who work in the reconstruction of the Strasbourg Cathedral, partially destroyed by lightning, stop their work for fear that lightning strikes again. They resume only when a couple of storks took residence on the scaffolding … “
stork on the top of the church
Stork’s Nest on the church tower of the Muntzenheim near Colmar: between the cross and the Gallic rooster!


Throughout the Rhine valley, to the Netherlands, people encouraged storks nesting on the houses to bring them luck, sometimes by building platforms as a support. In Eastern Europe, it was thought that nesting storks on a house would bring harmony to the family, a village with many of these birds would make a good harvest, and that the animal could predict the weather: agitation among the stork was omen of bad weather, if the bird was standing on one leg he would be cold, and if he slammed  its beak the day would be sunny.
Mention of the year 1281 about storks
« Ciconie pauce circa cathedram S. Pétri venerunt. Filie reditum usque ad festum S. Gregorii transtulerunt earum veroque priùs venerant quedam frigore perierunt. » – A few storks came to the feast of the Chair of St. Peter (18 January). The young ones had delayed their return to the feast of St. Gregory (March 12), and before they were arriving, some (the first coming) had died of cold. Mention of the year 1281.
The stork in Alsace is present on several documents from the Middle Ages. Several historical references emanate from the Annals of Dominican of Colmar dating from the late 13th century. This manuscript is a sort of very concise newspaper which in one sentence, some in the form of memo, list each notable development of the year. Many times we find the arrival of storks in spring, when they leave or other events that affect them
Departure of storks for migration.
Departure of storks for migration. Old postcard … Before 1914.

It is the stork that brings babies

The White Stork is responsible for providing babies to young parents. This myth probably has a very ancient origin.

In Alsace, the stork has the task to bring the babies ...
In Alsace, the stork has the task to bring the babies …
The Germanic folklore reported that storks would find babies in caves or swamps and would bring them to households in a basket on their back or by holding them in their beaks. The caves were then believed to contain the adebarsteine or “stork stone” but the birds could also find children in Kindelsbrunnen or “fountain children” in German. Newborns were directly given to the mother or released into the chimney. Couples wanting a child could place sweets for the stork on the windowsill.

Where to see storks in Alsace?

On the Alsatian roofs and steeples,  huge stork nests are forming impressive  crowns. I know only recently (thanks to a visit to the stork park” at Hunawihr), the weight of such a nest can sometimes reach a ton. This requires that the hosting roof structure is solid!
Mating of storks.
Mating of storks. Big hug and touching moment taken in Ribeauvillé.
Ribeauvillé — On the wine route of Alsace, In Ribeauvillé, there are several nests. These storks have lost their migratory instincts and must be fed by the tourist office, at least I suspect 🙂
I regularly observed them when passing by throughout the year, and always with the same pleasure.
Ecomusée d’Alsace — The Alsace Living Museum, having been one of the pilot sites for the reintroduction of the stork, now houses one of the largest populations of storks in the region with about thirty couples. You can observe many nests on the roofs of houses. They are almost all occupied by couples returning to nest each year
45 Stork Villages in Alsace — The network Stork Village of Alsace” was established in October 2009. To join, municipalities have to sign a charter and are committed to promote the reception of storks by setting up and maintaining one or more nests on the territory of the municipality and to support or undertake conservation action for the species while informing the public. Since its launch, 45 municipalities have signed the charter. It can be recognized by a sign shown at village entrances.
Presentation of the stork by a specialist.
Presentation of the stork by a specialist. Reintroduction Centre in Hunawihr.
Hunawihr, the reintroduction center of the stork — Originally, the Centre was exclusively a captive breeding site for White Storks. Dedicated to save the iconic stork the centre was established in Alsace in 1976 in the village of Hunawihr, just near Riquewihr (2 kilometers only). This is where Jacques and Jean-Claude Renaud, creators of the Eagle Park in Kintzheim, manage to find a technique to repopulate” Alsace
Today, theCentre for the reintroduction of the Stork” is a wildlife park that has expanded its activities to other endangered species. It is also a leisure area, but above all a place where we become aware of the threats put on nature and the need to save it. A visit not to be missed when visiting Alsace. Spring is particularly interesting because it is the season for breeding. We will have the opportunity to devote a full article.
Flying parade of storks
Pair of storks in flight parading. A real acrobatic aerial ballet. Hunawihr.

Accommodation for your stay in the land of the stork

From small studios to large luxury apartments (the most beautiful is called the White Stork precisely), les Remparts de Riquewihr offer 15 charming apartments for your stay in Alsace 14  holiday apartments in Riquewihr and 1 in La Vancelle Alsace.

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Bonjour Bev, it is nice to hear from you! Yes actually the storks are back! But in September, the younger ones are leaving for their long trip. Hoping to be back next Spring 🙂

  2. Thank you so much for reading it!

  3. Welcome back anytime!And if you wish to try another French region, we have now a first beautiful and neat apartment on the French Riviera for a pleasant stay all yer round. It is located in the bay of Cannes, at La Napoule, facing the marina and the beach. You will find all details here:

  4. Beverley Davey says:

    I am passing this article onto my friends who were with us at your apartment Alsatian Hart in September last year. My husband and I had been to Alsace some years ago and we noted last year that there seemed to be far less storks than on our previous trip. It is very heartening to know that the stork population has actually increased. Maybe they were away on their migration in early September last year.

    Bravo for such a wonderful article Jean-Paul.

    Kind Regards,
    Bev Davey

  5. Claudia Staehr says:

    Merci for this interesting article. . .so much I did not know about storks! I remember fondly staying at your lovely apartment, “Fox and the Grapes” in July 2013; walking to Ribeauvillé through the vineyards on the ‘Sentier Viticole’ above Riquewihr; choucroute at Hotel/Restaurant Au Dolder, and foie gras at Au Trotthus. . .and the wonderful Alsatian wine! So many wonderful memories!

  6. Christy Smith says:

    A wonderful, informative article, Jean-Paul Krebs. Merci!

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