If any animal could be considered the true mascot of the Algarve, it would have to be the White Stork (‘Cegonha Branca’ in Portuguese). Boasting spectacular views that could hardly be matched by even the most expensive penthouse apartments, these majestic birds make their homes on anything from roadside telephone poles to old chimneys, cliff faces and church rooftops all across the Algarve.
A particular hotspot for them is the medieval town of Silves, but there’s also plenty to be found in Faro as well. This is where I see them the most and I’m always amazed by how these elegant Algarvian aviators hardly have to flap their wings as they simply ride the thermals. They can't help but remind me of the planes that can usually be seen coming and going from the airport behind them.
Sitting on history
It's always been ‘bad luck’ to remove storks' nests, but it's also illegal. Indeed, we have these feathery ‘squatters’ to thank for the fact that, in many cases, the only reason an old building is still left standing, or quite often, just the chimney is left - is that there’s a stork perched proudly on top of it.
This conservation method of basically ‘leaving them be’ has been a huge success with the stork population increasing dramatically since the 1980s.
However, the reason I was inspired to write this story is to tell you about a rather amusing development I noticed while I was in downtown Faro the other day.
‘Weighing up’ their options
I don’t know if any of you remember, but around two years ago it was reported that a rather prominent nest on a streetlight in the middle of the roundabout outside of the Hotel Faro had been taken down.
This was a decision not taken lightly, but that was exactly the trouble - it was getting rather heavy. Weighing a mighty 400 kilos, the powers that be obviously decided that, despite the ‘bad luck’ of removing it, it would be worse luck if it fell on somebody's head.
Back in Town
Storks usually fly over to the warmer weather in Africa during the winter months (although, in recent years, more and more have started to become year-round residents) and I often thought that these storks upon arriving back at their ‘townhouse apartment’ would have been very confused as to where it had gone?! Indeed, the last few times I’ve been to Faro I’ve seen it was still empty. I was therefore quite surprised when I was recently walking towards the marina and I heard the distinctive clattering chatter (that they do in combo with a crazy neck-bending display) and looked up to see that they were back!
Far from deciding to ‘up sticks’ and move elsewhere, the stork family had defiantly decided to instead ‘pick up sticks’ and have started on the re-build. It's obviously a much smaller nest now (and therefore safer) but I could see a stork walking up and down on the lights - and was that a chick's face I could spot peeking out of the nest?
A Bird's Eye View
It was difficult to tell from street level, and after the stork had flown off to wade in the wetlands for lunch (or find more sticks), I went into the Hotel Faro and asked if there was any possibility they would let me go upstairs for a closer look? They told me that it was no problem at all and in fact the top floor bar and restaurant is open to the public.
From that amazing vantage point, not only could I sit and have a drink but it gave me an insight into the kind of view that storks themselves constantly enjoy. I was also able to see the nest a lot better and I immediately realised it wasn’t a chick that I’d seen at all - but the mummy stork. There weren’t any chicks yet but when she stood up to stretch her legs I spotted at least three eggs.
Now, I say ‘mummy stork’, but I later found out that this isn’t necessarily true. These monogamous birds are almost totally identical (the female is only a tiny bit smaller) and to make things even more uncertain, it turns out the couple split the household chores equally - even taking it in turns to incubate the eggs.
One, two, three.. jump
Anyway, I just thought you might like to know, if you're ever in town, now is a particularly exciting time to 'look up' - as very soon there’s bound to be a family of storks looking back down at you.
And the excitement doesn't stop there. The chicks grow up fast and at just two months old they will be ready to start flying lessons. Wings or no wings, looking down at the ground from my vantage point in Hotel Faro, this seemed to me to be a truly incredible leap of faith.