‘Stork Girls,’ ‘Nest Neighbors’ Keep Eye on Armenian Birds

Aug 9 2009

‘Stork Girls,’ ‘Nest Neighbors’ Keep Eye on Armenian Birds

by Jennifer Hattam, Istanbul, Turkey on 08. 9.09
Travel & Nature

A pair of Armenian researchers locals call the "stork girls" are
recruiting "nest neighbors" in rural villages to help them monitor the
country’s population of the large wading birds, which have
traditionally been a symbol of luck and success in the former Soviet

For the past four years, ArmeniaNow reports, young scientists Lusine
Stepanyan and Maro Kochinyan have been visiting "virtually every area
where storks nest in Armenia [to] distribute special calendars among
the residents living near the nests." Participating villagers, known
as "nest neighbors," use the calendars to track when the storks return
to the area and when they start breeding; the first days that
nestlings appear, and then start to fly; and when the storks leave
again, among other data.

Tracking Environmental Change
"We decided to study a widely spread species rather than a rare bird
or a species on the verge of extinction. It would enable us to see how
the changes in the environment affect the number of birds and their
nestlings," Karen Aghababyan, senior avian researcher at American
University of Armenia’s Acopian Environmental Research Center, the
group behind the project, told ArmeniaNow.

Though widespread throughout Armenia, storks are threatened in some
areas by pesticides and heavy metals in the environment, which
accumulate throughout the food chain in the fish and small animals the
big birds eat. Early results of the AUA surveys show that storks in
the Ararat Valley and Vayots Gorge are hatching few or no nestlings,
potentially indicating the illegal use of chemical pesticides.

In general, though, storks seem to be thriving in Armenia, where the
number of nesting pairs and nestlings has gone up over the four years
the "neighbors" have been conducting surveys. According to Aghababyan,
the change may be the unexpected consequence of two environmental

Global Warming Gives Stork Populations a Boost
Warming temperatures may have increased local insect populations, in
turn boosting the number of frogs, which storks eat. In addition,
Aghababyan told ArmeniaNow, "in some places, the increase in the
number of storks may also be conditioned by the existence of poultry
and fish farms that are surrounded by large quantities of food wastes’
— with some birds feeding off that waste to such a degree that they
don’t even need to migrate away in the winter.

In addition to providing useful data, the "nest neighbors" project is
increasing local villagers’ connection with nature. Gohar Hayrapetyan,
41, from Hovtashat village in Ararat province, told the news website
that she enjoys watch the storks that nest on a post in her garden. `I
draw parallels with our life," she said. "I watch them building their
nests bringing in twigs, hatching out their young, and then the young
ones leave. Just like people." Via: "Village ‘researchers’ help
monitor storks and environment in Armenia," ArmeniaNow

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