The stork has for centuries been part of Ribe, and it means a lot to the people of Ribe, which reflects in frequent use of the stork in fairytales, myths, warnings, art, medias and as a souvenir. During summer the nests on top of the town roofs are full of storks and the large number of storks has given Ribe the name ”Town of Storks”.
History of the stork in Ribe
The stork has been of great importance to many generations of people in Ribe and has spread joy and pride with its arrival every spring. Even though the stork does not visit every year anymore, this big white bird with red legs and beak is still an important part of Ribe.
Ribe was earlier known as ”Town of Storks”, and the town has been quite successful in marketing this label. In the 1930’s there were most storks in, from 17 pairs in 1931 to 34 pairs in 1939. And that was the time, when Ribe got its byname. It was truly an impressive sight with storks all over Ribe, and during the best years, around 150 storks gathered at Hovedengen by the end of August, before they started their 12.000 km long migration to South Africa.
From 1940 to 1949 the stork population decreased from 29 pairs to 6 pairs, partly due to ice winters, partly drought and lack of food in the African winter quarters. Until 1966 the population was stabile with 4-6 pairs most years, but the the population decreased further and during the period 1973-1977 no storks visited Ribe. Since 1978 the nest on top of the old town hall has been occupied most years, even though the storks haven’t visited Ribe the past few years. There are still 11 well-preserved stork’s nests in Ribe, but the stork prefers to stay on top of the old town hall.
The decreased breeding options in Denmark for the stork are mainly due to the development from extensive to intensive agriculture, which has drained meadows and other wet area. The storks are not able to find food and due to this, a stork association was founded in 1996 in Ribe in order to establish better living conditions for the storks – with success. Unfortunately the stork has not been to Ribe for some years now.
The stork as a symbol and myth
The stork has great symbol value for the Danes, since it appears in a number of songs, fairytales, warnings and myths as well as in paintings and other works of art. This noble bird has for centuries been part of the Danish nature and cultural picture and contributes to a special atmosphere by staying in nests on top of houses and farms. Apart from being delivering babies acc. to the myth, many people still regard the stork as being a lucky bird and it was earlier considered bad luck to kill or harm a stork. Further, a myth exists of the stork being a transformed person; a myth that ended, when the storks started wearing rings around 1900 and it was proven that they flew to Africa in the winter.
The mute swan is the national bird of Denmark today, but the stork was earlier considered the unofficial national bird of Denmark. Thus, the stork was on front of the Danish 10 crown note from 1952-1975, and about 70 years ago it was quite normal to use the stork on top of the family Christmas tree, which shows that the stork was the most popular bird in Denmark.
The stork as an attraction
The stork has always been a popular topic in the media and is a special tourist attraction, and the stork in Ribe has been mentioned in numerous articles in the Danish and foreign press. Hopefully the media will soon bring news about the stork in Ribe, if the stork should honour us with an anniversary visit in celebration of Ribe’s 1300 year anniversary. Regardless, it will be a joyous day when the stork returns to Ribe and young birds sit in the nest on top of the old town hall.
V. J. Brøndegaard: Folk og Fauna 2. Dansk Etnozoologi, 1985.
Tommy Dybro: Storken. Holte: Skarv’s ornitologiske serie, 1979.
O. Helms m.fl.: Storken. København: Hage og Clausens Forlag, 1927.
Christina Balslev Jespersen: Ribe og storken 1899-2005, i Fra Ribe Amt 2007.
Tage La Cour: Gøg, Stork og Svale i Sagn og Tro, 1938.
Hans Skov: Ribe – Storkenes By – storkenes 500-årige historie i Ribe, i Fra Ribe Amt 1992.
Hans Skov: Storken. En Kultur- og Naturhistorie, 2003.