The Last of the Japanese White Stork

Important Trivia about the Japanese Stork

Common Name: Oriental stork or Oriental white stork

Scientific Name: Ciconia boyciana

Size and Appearance: Just as its name suggests, this bird is colored white. What makes it distinct would be the black lower wings. This means that the tips of their wings, also known as scapulars, are distinctly black. It could be easily confused with the typical European white stork. The basic difference between the two of them is the fact that it has a black bill, in contrast to the red bill of the European white stork.

This animal has an impressively large wingspan of about 2.22 meters which makes it larger and longer than the typical white stork. Usually, the Japanese white stork is about 120 cm long and has a height of about 120 cm. Its average weight is about 2.8 kg. The female stork is slightly smaller than its male counterpart but, generally, both genders are similar.

Life Span: The lifespan of a typical oriental white stork is similar to its European counterpart which falls on the average of 30 years. Captive birds are known to live longer in controlled conditions compared to its wild counterparts. In captivity, the longest an oriental stork has lived was about 48 years. Besides this, there is limited data on the life expectancy of oriental storks, especially now that they are critically endangered.

Habitat: The Oriental stork is well-known for living near wetlands and mud flats. They are birds which usually prey on small fishes and other aquatic creatures. Their long legs enable them to see their prey above water, making it easier to catch food items.

It is also common for this species of birds to live near grasslands and riverbanks because of their food. They are also known nest in tall trees or other tall structures like pylons.

Distribution: The Oriental stork has been known to be abundant in many parts of East Asia which include China, Japan, and Korea. It is also known to have inhabited some parts of Russia which are near these said countries. However, through the decades the Oriental stork’s population started to dwindle and eventually it was declared extinct in Japan and Korean’s wilderness. Only those captured in captivity remain in these two countries. The good thing is that there is still a handful in China and Russia which helped in the rehabilitation of the Oriental storks in both Japan and Korea in the past decades.

Current Status: Based on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the oriental stork is considered an Endangered species. Based on a survey from the early 2000s, there are roughly a thousand of these birds combined in some parts of Eastern Siberia and China. There are a few hundred in Japan, Taiwan, and Korea. However, despite ongoing efforts of rehabilitation, its population still continue to decrease.

Details about the Japanese Stork

How where they discovered?

Based on historical records it was first described in the year 1873. It was quite abundant in many parts of East Asia and Eastern Siberia. In 1988, it was only considered as threatened but less than five years later, its international status became endangered. In some parts of the world, like Japan and Korea, there was a time when this bird became regionally extinct.

By Ltshears [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

This particular animal is commonly compared to the European white stork and there are extensive researches to determine how well they are related, whether one is the subspecies of the other. If so, scientists are still on the path of discovering the long-range migratory patterns of these birds. There was a time that it was considered as a subspecies of the European white stork but discoveries on some morphological features proved that they are two different species altogether.  

What are their distinctive features?

The bird looks similar to the European white stork but its most distinctive feature would be its black bill and white eyes. The plumage of this bird is cleanly white with the tips of its wings cleanly black. Its beak is long and pointed which makes it easy to catch medium-sized fishes. Its eyes are color white, in contrast to the dark colored eyes of European storks, and it has an extra layer of skin surrounding the eye. Their legs are also quite long with a deep red color. The length of their legs makes it easy to navigate through muddy waters and shallow springs.

Young Oriental storks have a slightly different appearance compared to the adult storks. Their bills start off a color of deep orange while their plumage is completely white. Their color starts to change as they reach a few months into maturity.  

Where do they live?

What is interesting about the oriental white stork is the fact that it is a migratory bird. This means that at certain times of the year they go into long distance flights towards another location. Since their breeding period occurs during the start of the fall season, it is common for these birds to migrate right after the breeding season. This is the time when the temperatures grow colder and go lower than the birds are comfortable in. Usually, they move south and travel long distances as far as 3,000 kilometers. The places where they migrate to usually have tropical seasons and are known to be wintering grounds.

By Spaceaero2 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

During most parts of the year, these birds are known to inhabit wetlands where there is an abundance of food and other resources like tall grass and trees for breeding and hunting. They are known to prefer high altitudes, between 10 to 30 meters above ground, when nesting as well. It prefers temperate regions and it cannot survive cold climates, like those of Hokkaido, all year-round.

How do they behave?

Generally, these creatures are very solitary. They live as separate individuals rather than groups. This is so that they would not have too much competition during feeding. The only time that an oriental stork is with another individual would be during the breeding season where the male and female birds co-habituate a single home range. These birds have also been observed to create sound and calls for different activities but the most common, and distinct sound, would be their mating call. They usually clatter their bills to communicate with the opposite gender. Sometimes, this bill-clattering can also be accommodated by slight whistling.

What do they eat?

This kind of bird species usually feeds on small to medium-sized fishes that live in wetlands, marshes, and mudflats. They also commonly eat frogs, snails, shrimps, and even crabs. In most cases, they also feed on insects like beetles and crickets. They also feed on earthworms if they find one in mudflats and marshes. In conditions where there is a limitation of food resources, these birds can feed on plant matter like roots, grains, rice, seeds, and the like. During their lucky days, they also feed on small mammals like rodents.

They have an interesting way of catching fish and other aquatic animals. The stork usually uses their long legs to slowly walk on the shallow water waiting for a fish or creature to swim by. Using their long beak, they will catch it by its tail before swallowing it whole.

They do have feeding patterns where more birds forage for food at specific times of the day. Often, they feed during the early morning or the late afternoon. When they are nesting chicks, they forage for food more often to satisfy themselves and their young.

By Ltshears [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], from Wikimedia Commons

How do they reproduce?

The mating season begins with courtship between a male and female stork. Usually, sounds are made by the clattering of bills as a form of attracting female storks. The courtship process involves a great deal of neck and head wobbling. Both genders will use their beaks to preen their partner, this is a form of creating a strong bond between the two.

The breeding period is almost a year-long activity for the storks. Courtship usually starts as early as April and continues on until the copulation period in September to October. The birds will migrate for the winter and return the around March for egg laying.  

The period of labor for a typical oriental stork female is about two to five days. During this time it will successfully lay about three to four eggs. These eggs will then be incubated for a little over a month before the chicks hatch. Both parents are known to care for the young wherein the bring in regurgitated food into the nest making it available for the chicks. After two months of being nursed, the young will then live independently from their parents. What is special about the stork is that it is known to be monogamous. This means that they prefer a single mate throughout their lifetime. They also play an active role in caring for their young until fledging period.

The nests of these birds are unusual as well. Some individual birds prefer using a specific nest for several breeding seasons before officially creating a new one. Others, on the other hand, prefer creating new nests especially when their old nest belongs to the home range of a new individual or their old nests have been destroyed by external means. When they prefer using older nests, they still add new material to strengthen it and make it more “attractive” for the opposite gender.

Japanese Stork: their meaning and importance to Japan’s culture

Although the Oriental stork is much less popular than its red-crowned crane counterpart, the white stork still plays an interesting role in Japanese arts and culture. It is often depicted in paintings and other artworks as graceful animals that exist in nature. The white stork can have a variety of meanings depending on how it was depicted in a story, a historical record, and more.

In many East Asian countries, the stork is believed to represent prosperity and longevity. It is believed during the earlier times that the stork can live up to an old age. It is also a symbol of grace, wisdom, and luck. Interestingly, in more Western cultures, it is known to symbolize birth and new life. There are even fictional stories indicating that the stork brings in babies for expecting parents.

it is a patron of motherhood which is why it is often depicted as the “baby bringer”. It is said that it is due to the fact that it thrives in water, a symbol of feminine fluidity and energy. Other than this idea, it is also a symbol of rebirth and creation.

Threats to the life of the Japanese stork

There are a number of threats that have affected the declining numbers of Oriental stork in the world. One of these would be the fact that they are often hunted or trapped for personal satisfaction. However, there was a time wherein the two tourists are allowed to use the rule of the old president. On the other hand, the most obvious threat to the life of the Oriental stork would be overhunting. This is why it was declared as a Special Natural Monument of Japan, putting a finality to the hunting and trapping ban of the Japanese stork.

Conservation Efforts to protect the Japanese Stork

Despite the presence of regulations, there are still a small number of Japanese white stork in certain parts of the world. One of the main conservation efforts that were done in Japan was that they have bred the Oriental stork in captivity. It was in 2005 when the first oriental stork eggs hatched in the wilds of Japan for more than 30 years since it has gone extinct in 1971.

For the next ten years, more and more oriental storks have been bred in captivity and are released into the Hyogo Prefecture. In fact, the case has been responding so positively that the estimate of its population in the island topped 100 in early 2017.

However, in the same year, there was a controversial shooting of a white stork somewhere in Shimane prefecture. The shooter admitted that he has mistaken the bird for another species and accidentally shot at it. It was a regrettable event but no severe punishment was put into place.