The white storks of Eibertshiem

On the site of the National Park’s visitor centre, there stands a remarkable structure. A tall pole with a platform
at the top that looks like an old cartwheel. This is a stork’s nest, which can be found in many places in the Alde
Feanen. Particularly in the vicinity of the Dominee van der Veenwei, where the Eibertshiem is located on the land of the ReidplŻm, the former work and information shed of It Fryske Gea.

‘Eibert’ is Frisian for white stork, ‘hiem’ means land. So this is a stork station, an outstation established in 1980
as a branch of the national stork station Het Liesveld near Groot Ammers. At the time, this concerned an initiative
of the Netherlands Society for the Protection of Birds.
The white stork had become almost extinct as a breeding bird in the Netherlands. Bird protectionists started to
catch the last few birds, clipped their wings and started a breeding programme with them, in the hope that their
offspring would run wild and migrate to the warm south in winters and return with a potential partner. To promote
the distribution throughout the country, outstations were established in various places. Three of them were set
up in Friesland: in Akmarijp/Terkaple, in Spanga and in Earnew‚ld.

White stork

Thanks to the reintroduction project, the stork population has reached the level of a hundred years ago, when all inhabited nests in the country were counted for the first time.
For a long time the white stork chose between two different routes. To the Sahel via Gibraltar or to the south of Africa via the Bosporus. Nowadays it takes only the western route. On its way and in the wintering places, the white stork is vulnerable due to bird shooting or food supplies, which may vary from year to year.

No migration urge

Initially, the project did not go smoothly. Even though some storks started breeding, the spring was often too wet
or too cold, as a result of which the chicks died. If they did survive, it was difficult to get them moving. They were
so well looked after that they did not seem interested in undertaking a long journey. They stayed in the area, close to their family and caretakers, who lovingly provided them with day-old chicks.

It was years before any progress was made. Although white storks can still be seen in Friesland even in winter - an unnatural situation - there are also birds that do migrate. And in spring, there are quite a few inhabited nests in
Friesland. Take Beetsterzwaag, where as many as fifteen nests in trees, on poles and even on top of houses were recently spotted.

Seven hundred breeding pairs

Eibertshiem is still a central location. The long-legged black-white birds pace up and down the confines. In
recent years, the basic principle has been that the white storks should manage by themselves out in the open.
Across the county there are now about 650 breeding pairs.

The ultimate ambition is to have an independent and viable population consisting of 300 wild white stork pairs
living in nature in the Netherlands by 2010. To achieve this, the breeding stations are now seeking to improve the
biotope (habitats) in the peat meadow areas and the river and brook valleys in the Netherlands. The fact that nature development projects in recent years have focussed a great deal of attention on marsh expansion has an adverse effect on the white storks, because the latter need grassland, where they can find earthworms, large ground beetles, mice and moles, but they also eat the occasional frog.

In Eibertshiem the emphasis now lies on providing information and on participation in discussions on the nature
plans. In the context of building the landscape for the white stork, the creation of small pools and making the stretches of land ‘plas-dras’ may have a very positive effect. Offering opportunities for building nests, simply by putting up poles in suitable places, is also helpful. Considering all attention for this characteristic polder land bird, the white storks of the Low Centre of Frysl‚n will undoubtedly be all right.

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