White storks have been changing their migrations patterns in the last decades. These large birds are apparently staying in Spain and Portugal the whole year round, instead of migrating to Africa for Winter, since both countries are full of landfill sites with large supplies of junk food.
These birds are part of a new group of species that have changed their habits and behaviors as a consequence of human influence and global environmental change, said researchers at the University of East Anglia in a press release published Tuesday.
Results would appear to show that white storks are effectively living near landfill sites, which have huge amounts of all types of food. According to researchers, this species may have a “dramatic” impact on their populations in the close future since the European Union Landfill Directives have ordered the closure of some landfills.
For instance, the population of white storks in Portugal has increased considerably over the last 20 years. Currently, the country is the home of approximately 14,000 wintering birds, said lead researcher Dr. Aldina Franco, from UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences in a press release.
“These are exciting times to study animal migration. 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.” She added in a statement.
Researchers made emphasis on the bird’s reliance on landfill food and they found out that landfills have impacted the nest use, daily travel distances and foraging ranges because these places are full of food.
A deeper look at the study: if food is at home, birds don’t need to migrate to a different continent
Researchers have connected 48 GPS tracking devices to the body of 48 different white storks, in order to obtain their position five times a day. As a result, they were able to understand the travel patterns of storks between nesting areas and feeding areas. Moreover, they could measure flight distances.
It appears that storks rely on landfill sites, specifically during the winter season, when food and resources are not abundant. This has permitted the establishment of resident populations, researchers said.
The EU has determined that landfill sites in Portugal will be gradually replaced by new installations that will maintain food waste under cover. Researchers seem to suggest that this will cause a problem for white storks, which will be in need of changing their migration patterns again.