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Stork season in the Luneburg Heath

Many storks breed in the southern heath

Every year in spring the storks return from their warm winter habitats back to Germany to their existing breeding nests. The Luneburg Heath is one of the white storks' favourite summer homes.
At the very south of the Luneburg Heath, along the heathland river Aller, stork nests adorn the villagescape of many small heathland villages.
The white stork - ambassador of happiness and spring
The return of the white storks in the heath villages is joyfully expected from mid-March onwards. According to the legends and tales surrounding the white stork, he is an ambassador of happiness and spring. The White Stork is considered on the one hand as an ambassador of marital peace and on the other hand as a bearer of offspring. It is also said that the White Stork protects its own home from lightning strikes and its return announces the long awaited spring. According to the stories, the White Stork is truly a messenger of good fortune and it is no wonder that he is a welcomed summer guest on every roof every year. 
How the stork spends the year
The arrival of the white storks
Normally the white storks return from their warm winter quarters at the end of March to the beginning of April in order to return to their summer breeding nests along the Aller river. But due to the mild winters the first white storks often arrive at the nests already at the end of February / beginning of March. Usually the male white storks take over the lead. They occupy the stork nests and prepare them for the arrival of the female white storks after a long winter. So it is not surprising that especially at the beginning of the return to the nests only one stork is seen for the time being. But the males do not have to wait long for the arrival of the female white storks. They usually follow after one to three weeks. 
The White Stork remains loyal to his lady - or rather to his nest?
According to stories, a white stork remains faithful to its partner throughout its life. But is this true? The loyalty of the white storks is due to the fact that both male and female white storks remain faithful to their breeding nests and the pairs therefore meet again and again.
Usually the male only waits one to three weeks for the arrival of his white stork lady. If she does not arrive during this time, the male white stork assumes that his white stork lady will not return to the old eyrie. However, he will not remain alone, because the preservation of the species and reproduction is the top priority for the white storks. In this case he will look for a new stork lady suitable for his offspring.
Welcoming rattle concert
The white stork lady gets a "rattle concert" to celebrate her return. The male throws his long neck backwards onto his back and begins to beat his beak halves together. For this reason, the white stork is often referred to as the rattling stork. 
The breeding season of the white storks
As soon as the longed-for white stork lady arrives, mating begins. Shortly after mating, the white stork lays two to seven eggs in the nest, which must now be incubated. The incubation period is usually from the beginning of April to the beginning of June. Males and females take turns. During the incubation period the white storks can be easily observed in their nests, because during this time at least one stork must always be present in the nest. After about 32 days the young storks hatch and a few hours later they start rattling their beaks. From this time on, the white stork parents are busy procuring food and protecting the nest from enemies.
At the beginning of July the young storks start their first flight exercises. They stand up in the nests and start flapping their wings. It does not take long and the first flight attempts start into the surrounding fields.
Return to the winter quarters
From the middle of August the white storks prepare for the flight to their warm winter quarters. The young storks start their long flight to Africa first, often two weeks before the departure of the parent storks. Only at the age of three to five years young storks become sexually mature. And only then do they return to the breeding grounds of the parent storks for the first time.
Observation tip
From the beginning of April until the beginning of July you can observe the white storks wonderfully in their breeding nests. From the middle of July it becomes more difficult, because now the young storks have also become fledged and catch their own food in the surrounding fields. As the nests are located high up - either on the roofs of old farmhouses, on the chimney of a bakery or even on a church tower - you should always have binoculars with you to observe the storks.
Facts about the White Stork
Name: In Germany the white stork is commonly called "Adebar" or "Klapperstorch" (rattle stork)
Appearance: approx. 100 cm tall bird with bright red beak, bright red legs, white plumage and black feathers at the end of the wing tips
Lute: The white stork can be recognized by its loud clatter. This is when he strikes the halves of his beak together.
Diet: Fish, earthworms, insects, lizards, frogs
Habitat: Riverine plains, floodplains, wet grassland, open wetlands
Period of stay in Europe: End of March to mid-August. The arrival time of the white storks depends on the weather. In mild winters it can happen that the white stork returns already at the end of February / beginning of March.