ZYWKOWO, POLAND – It is a success story of happy coexistence: outnumbered by storks, residents of the Polish hamlet of Zywkowo welcome the birds on their roofs in exchange for good luck — and, if you believe legend, newborns.
Kept afloat by EU and nonprofit funding, the northern hamlet, a stone’s throw from the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, depends on storks for the tourism it needs to survive.
“In the 1960s, we had 120 residents and 20 storks. Today it is the opposite,” said retired farmer Wladyslaw Andrejew.
While too poor to keep the younger generation from leaving, this part of the country is paradise on Earth for the large, red-legged birds.
More than 15,000 pairs of white storks flock to the lake-rich northern region of Masuria every summer, local officials say.
Poland as a whole sees an average of 50,000 storks a year, or 20 percent of the world population.
When he retired, Andrejew sold his farm to the bird protection society PTOP, a nonprofit organization based in the northeastern city of Bialystok.
Using the farm as a local base has allowed PTOP to launch a series of projects aimed at welcoming storks into the area.
“We harvest hay, dig ponds, put up new platforms for their nests, fix the old platforms, insulate the electric lines for the birds’ safety,” said farm manager Adam Lopuszynski. “We bought these aerial lifts firemen use, which help us reach and repair the big nests up high.” A stork’s nest generally weighs 500 kg but can reach up to quadruple that.
PTOP acquired a total of 75 hectares of land around Zywkowo and planted a mishmash of crops, as that is what the bird prefers.
Zywkowo’s three-year stork protection program, which ends this year, cost around €1.5 million ($2 million).