Visitors to the animal park Planckendael in Muizen, part of the city of Mechelen in Antwerp province, will already be familiar with the storks who patrol the parking spaces like genteel ladies tip-toeing around in the gravel on their exaggerated high heels.
Well, as of now there are more of them. A record number, indeed.
Each year around this time, workers at the park, which is part of the Zoo of nearby Antwerp, have to ring the new-born chicks as part of an international stork census organisation.
This year, however, the park staff had to ring chicks in 82 different nests, a record number. And despite the recent cold and rain, the chicks appear to have weathered the storm, so to speak.
“The cold and rain are of course not good for the stork young,” said caretaker Axelle Steenhouwer on Radio 2 Antwerp. “We are really surprised that so many young survived.”
As visitors to the park will know, the stork nests sit on the top of tall poles dotted around the park itself and its surroundings. To ring the chicks, staff have to use cherry-picker lifts to reach the giddy heights preferred by storks for protection from predators.
The timing is crucial. If the young have grown too much, they will fly off. If they are too small, the ring will drop off and be lost.
The stork colony at Planckendael is not historic. The first ten young were ringed at the park in 1991, in three nests. Ten years on, in 2001, there were 22 nests and 23 young. At latest count, there are 82 nests.
The storks winter in the region between Spain and West Africa, covering 300km a day on their migration of up to 3,000km. But scientists have recently found that the migration has nothing to do with seeking warmer climes.
In fact, the birds are simply going looking for better food provision during what are here the colder months.