stork, common name for members of a family of long-legged wading birds. The storks are related to the herons and ibises and are found in most of the warmer parts of the world. Storks have long, broad, powerful wings; in flight they flap their wings or soar with their legs dangling and their long necks bent back in an S shape. They feed on fish, reptiles, amphibians, mollusks, and insects, which they catch with quick thrusts of their long, heavy bills. Having no syrinx muscles, storks are mute—though they produce a clattering noise by snapping their bills. The only storks found in the Americas are the American wood stork, previously known as the wood ibis, a white bird about 4 ft (122 cm) long with a glossy greenish-black tail, found in temperate and tropical regions; and the jabiru, of the tropics, with a white-and-black body and naked black head. In Europe the white stork, Ciconia ciconia, (c.40 in./100 cm long, with red bill and legs) is regarded as a good omen, particularly of fertility, and is encouraged to build its platform nest on housetops. It is common from Holland to the Balkans. The black stork of Eurasia, C. nigra, is smaller and wilder. Largest of the family are the saddle-billed stork of Africa and the adjutant storks of S Asia and tropical Africa, so named (despite their untidy head feathers) for their upright military bearing. One Indian species, called also marabou, has soft tail feathers used in millinery and once popular for making feather boas. Adjutant storks are valued and protected as scavengers. Storks are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Ciconiiformes, family Ciconiidae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.