Wednesday 21 November 2012


Black Stork (Ciconia nigra). Choni on nest "original" in 2011, last season it was observed, with an age of 21 years. Eva Palacios.

Humans name each new family member as it enters the world, but the animals that we see in our travels are all anonymous. Or almost all. Some have brand new names thanks to man marking them. Among the birds of Extremadura has been such a particular individual: Choni, a Black Stork. The legend was born of "The Choni".

Choni had the great idea of starting her home in a highly visible place in the much visited Monfragüe National Park, becoming perhaps the most famous Black Stork in the world. And all because on one of her red legs is a white plastic ring with the letters C/HN. It is now easy to see how she got her name. This author came to Extremadura in 1995, when Choni started her nest. So for over 18 years we were almost neighbors ... with me waiting for her timely return each spring. In 2012 she did not return. After a year's absence, it seems highly justified for me to write this small tribute.

Black Stork (Ciconia nigra). Choni was born in Oliva de Plasencia. Photo by J. A. Roman in 1988. There are no photos of 1990 when Choni was ringed.

Choni was born in a nest in an old corn oak in Oliva de Plasencia (Cáceres), in the spring of 1990. A productive and accessible nest where several chicks had been ringed in previous years, probably Choni's siblings. On 11 June 1990, Jose Antonio Román and Juan José Ferrero, ringers from Elanus de Adenex group, ringed the three chicks in the nest. Of the three siblings, C/HL was seen on 13 and 25 September 1991 in the Emblase de Valuengo, Badajoz, but there have been no further sightings. Worse fate befell C/HP, found dead, 2,900 km away, in Africa three years later, on June 14, 1993 in Macina, Mali.

In her fifth year, Choni, now an adult female took possession of one of the classic nests in Monfragüe, close to the famous Portilla del Tiétar and only 35 km from her birthplace. A territory held from 1994 to 2011 for 18 straight seasons where year after year she successfully raised between one to four chicks each year. We have data for 18 seasons, when she fledged a total of 46 young , ie an average of 2.55 per year. At least three different males have shared her nest. One of them, ringed as 1/9V, was her partner four years, between 1999 and 2002. This male, also born in the north of Cáceres, was ringed by Elanus de Adenex on June 19, 1992.

Black Stork (Ciconia nigra). Choni, aged 21, with her partner. Year 2011. Javier Prieta.
Black Stork. Male W[1/9V]. Partner of Choni between 1999 and 2002. By Enrique F. Larreta.

Thousands of people have enjoyed seeing Choni on her nest, resting, flying, incubating or feeding her chicks, and sometimes seeing surprising behavior, such as two cases of infanticide, and the presence of other ringed birds in or near the nest: a juvenile from Luxembourg on September 18, 2004 (O [CT05]), a bird born in 2005 Lanzahíta, Avila was seen on 18 and 23 March 2008 (W [68C4]), and one born in Valdemaque, Madrid in 2005, was observed on June 12, 2010 (W [W10V]).

Black Stork (Ciconia nigra). Choni with her partner and three chicks. Year 2003. Javier Prieta.

Perhaps most interesting was documented conflicts with her neighbours. With the increase in population of vultures, it has become commonplace in Monfragüe for them to usurp nests of other species, especially black storks, but also nests of Egyptian Vultures, Bonelli's and Spanish Imperial Eagles that are found in trees. Choni began to suffer with nest occupatons by vultures in 1999. When she returned she found a vulture incubating in her nest, however, with human assistance, it was recovered and she fledged 4 chicks. In 2002 she had worse luck and this time the vultures won, leaving no other choice for Choni but to build a new nest a few meters away. Thereafter annual occupations were, even in two nests at once, although interventions by park staff eased the situation. Since 2002, Choni used the original nest five times and the new one six times. On two occasions, the first nest was used by a pair of egyptian vultures, and in 2010 there were two pairs of black storks in the nests, but the other pair did not lay eggs.

Choni nesting place between 1994 and 2011. Picture taken in 2010. With yellow circle the traditional nest, known for decades and occupied this time by another pair of black storks. With blue circle the nest "alternative" built in 2002 and occupied by Choni and her chicks. With red circle where there was a egyptian vulture nest. Above and to the right of the rock usually breed griffon vultures.

Sadly, in 2012 Choni did not return home. A sighting was reported in Monfragüe, but with no confirmation. The nest was used but both birds were unringed. Although there is no evidence that Choni has died, 21 years of life would make her the oldest known Spanish Black Stork.... and also the most famous.

Black Stork (Ciconia nigra). Choni with her three chicks. Year 2006. Javier Prieta.

This text is dedicated to GOCE, source of most of the information and experiences collected; Santi Cano for his infectious teaching and especially his passion for "Black Ladies" and José Antonio Román, Víctor Pizarro and Juan José Ferrero (Adenex ringing group), who between 1980 and 1995 ringed no less than 555 black storks in Extremadura. A task which unfortunately has not been continued, but which has helped to understand the species in Extremadura. J. A. Roman has provided data and photographs. 

- Ferrero, J. J. and Pizarro, V. M. 2003. The Black Stork in Extremadura. Cuadernos Poplulares No. 61. Consejería de Cultura. Junta de Extremadura. Merida.