Most people probably associate Austria with cows grazing on Alpine pastures rather than storks on rooftops. However, the eastern province of Burgenland lies at the edge of the (little) Hungarian plain and has quite a different topography and climate to the rest of the country. The photo above shows a storks’ nest in the small town of Rust on the shores of Lake Neusiedl. Some 15 breeding pairs currently return here every year for the summer.
There have been storks in Rust since the early 20th century and the town has become famous for them. At its peak, in the 1960s, the stork population consisted of around 40 breeding pairs. The decline in numbers has been put down to shrinking wetland areas. The storks normally arrive at the beginning of April and leave for their African overwintering sites around the end of August.
When we visited Rust recently we spent a lot of time just wandering around and watching the storks. They have an impressive wingspan and seeing half a dozen flying low above the town is quite a sight. Below are two shots of an adult bird returning to its nest with material for effecting some home improvements.
The storks find their food in Lake Neusiedl and the surrounding meadows. However, they have to share these food sources with ducks, geese, and large numbers of other birds.
The locals do everything they can to make the storks feel welcome, e.g. by maintaining nesting platforms on their roofs and providing the wicker material for the nests. Well over twenty years ago a ‘stork club’ was formed to protect them and to conserve their habitats.
Rust is a very attractive little town and well worth a visit even when the storks are not there – the area is on the UNESCO World Heritage list (as the Fertö/Neusiedlersee Cultural Landscape). The big black-and-white birds, however, add a special appeal.
The locals are clearly very much aware of the storks’ value as a tourist attraction, with businesses, wines, and restaurant dishes named after them. Even the local pharmacy’s van (pictured below) has stork motifs painted on it. You get the feeling, though, that behind all this is not some cold-hearted marketing strategy, but the peoples’ genuine fondness for their feathered visitors.