24.03.2020 change 24.03.2020

Would Mooo Believe it! Cows Help Protect Storks

Cows on green pastures improve the hunting success rate of white storks, researchers have found.

The discovery was made by Researchers from the Polish Society for the Protection of Birds PTOP, the University of Cambridge (United Kingdom) and the University of Life Sciences in Poznań during research into the hunting success rate of the protected white stork. 

They found that storks like specific parts of meadows, pastures, and especially places where cows graze.

Project leader Adam Zbyryt from the Polish Society for the Protection of Birds (PTOP) said: “Cows can be of enormous importance for the protection of the white stork. 

“Our research conducted in the extensive agricultural landscape of northern Poland confirms that they improve the hunting success rate of these birds. 

“In this area, cows from most farms stay on green pastures all season. No wonder that this is the region with the highest number of storks in Poland.”

The researchers also looked at the how the presence of crows had affected  the effectiveness of hunting storks.

Zbyryt said: “While white storks made a similar number of hunting attempts during feeding with cows and on their own, catching prey near cows was much more frequent. 

“In the case of storks feeding near cows, almost 90% of hunting attempts were successful, and in the case of birds hunting alone it was less than 60 percent.”

He adds that storks in the presence of cows would not only catch more prey, but did that with much less effort, because they moved on shorter distances. 

Studies have shown that the hunting success rate of storks near cows was more stable throughout the day than in the case of birds feeding alone. In the latter case, it was lowest around noon and increased at the end of the day, but never reached the same effectiveness as near cows. 

The researchers also found that the higher number of cows in a pasture was associated with greater hunting success.

Professor Piotr Tryjanowski, director of the Institute of Zoology at the Poznań University of Life Sciences, said: “From an evolutionary point of view, the genesis of this behaviour may be interesting. 

“Storks probably transferred it to the northern hemisphere, where they breed, from southern areas, their African wintering grounds, with the development of agriculture in Europe. 

“Birds that previously foraged with large ruminants in the savannah, applied that experience in a new place. It is a bit similar to our previous research in Africa on the system: large herbivorous mammals - birds.”

The scientists conclude that to reintroduce the White stork to Poland, instead of feeding them fish or chicken from special platforms, “we could restore the free grazing of cows, which is more nature-friendly. Besides, it is a really wonderful, almost idyllic view: slowly grazing cows and storks walking among them.”

PAP - Science in Poland

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