The Birds Who Eat Junk Food

Humans are not the only species with a preference for junk food, we all remember “gullgate” and the dangers posed by chip crazed birds. Gulls are not the only birds to adapt their diet to human activities, as researchers have found that more migratory birds are changing their behaviour and diet.

Storks are just one example added to a growing list of migratory birds who are choosing to shun their traditional migrations in order to snack on the food they can find in our rubbish dumps. Until recently all white storks would migrate South from Europe for the winter but there is growing evidence to suggest that an increasing number are staying behind.

A team from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany have studied the migratory habits of 70 young storks during their first migration using GPS devices. The birds came from 8 different countries; Armenia, Greece, Poland, Russia, Spain, Germany, Tunisia and Uzbekistan and revealed a startling differences in the birds migrations.

The study published in Science Advancesshowed that the birds from Russia, Poland and Greece all made their traditional migrations, however the birds from Spain, Tunisia and Germany all lingered North of the Sahara and those from Uzbekistan didn’t leave their home country.

Dr Andrea Flack who led the study claims the white storks have changed their behaviour to live closer to humans where food is in good supply. They survive missing their annual migration by eating from dumps which provides a high-calorie diet without the added expenditure of long-distance flight. The only real negative for the stork is that there’s always the chance they might eat the wrong thing and die from it.

Those that stay North of the Sahara seem to currently have an advantage, however it is likely their new behaviour may be detrimental to the ecological functions they play. Storks feed on crop pests such as locusts in Africa where they would traditionally overwinter so it may not even be in humans best interest for the birds to change their behaviour.

Stuart Butchart from Birdlife International was also quick to highlight that human activity is often detrimental to migratory birds.”Many more migratory species are declining owing to habitat loss and degradation on their breeding, passage and wintering ranges, driven by intensifying and expanding agriculture, logging, and destruction of coastal mudflats by land reclamation, among other factors.”

Featured Image from Wrights Wanderings

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Emily Stewart
Owner of Inspirewildlife - a site dedicated to sharing positive conservation news stories from around the world. Zoo Management Graduate from University of Chester
Emily Stewart

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